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A member of the Berry volleyball team represented the Vikings in Brazil this summer as part of a sports tour and cultural immersion experience.
Junior Zoe Wooten traveled to Brazil in June with nineteen other volleyball players from Division III schools across the country in a tour hosted by USA Sports Tours & Events.
The men’s and women’s volleyball teams, each with a roster of 10 players, spent nine days in Brazil, playing four competitions against professional Brazilian club teams.
Wooten was the only female player representing the Southern Athletic Association conference and said she was the only player from the Southeast, while her teammates were from northern states such as Wisconsin and New York.
The annual tour, organized by former college basketball coach Ron Smith, recruits All-American caliber athletes across all NCAA divisions to represent the United States in Brazil, playing sports including volleyball, soccer and basketball.
The USA Sports Tours & Events website states that Smith wanted to share international experiences with D-II and D-III athletes regardless of their level of competition.
Wooten, a middle blocker on the Vikings volleyball team, said that her experience playing for Berry helped her prepare for the new experiences on the tour.
“The skills that Berry helped me to have included how to be a good teammate and how to adapt to change very well,” said Wooten. “Playing for Berry, I’ve been able to take away how important relationships are and have learned how to ask for help from such a versatile team that is made up of a whole bunch of different majors.”
Wooten said she is thankful for the humbling experience of playing in an impoverished nation because she had never personally seen poverty at such a massive extent. The local people in Brazil impressed her because of how they emphasized and shared gratitude. Wooten said she also found it interesting how culturally important volleyball to the nation of Brazil.
“For them, it is something that can help them out of poverty and their financial situation,” Wooten said. “It’s something that can help them succeed.”
Seven Berry volleyball players have participated in the tour, the first being Stephanie Quinn in 2014. Since then, both Berry players from both the men’s and women’s soccer teams have also participated in a tour.
Caitlyn Moriarty, the head indoor and beach volleyball coach at Berry, has coached the Vikings for seven years, two of which she has also coached on one Smith’s Brazilian tours. Both times, Moriarty toured with a Berry student.
Moriarty said she always encourages her athletes to take advantage of the invitations to the international tour.
“Brazil is the number one country for volleyball, so they have such a passion for the sport,” Moriarty said. “That is pretty special when you are a D-III player but you’re in an arena full of Brazilian fans that are cheering for both the Brazilian team and the American team because they love volleyball so much.”
JT Oates, Berry’s assistant volleyball coach, also believes that this tour opens many doors for conversations and connections. Oates said it’s a great opportunity to play against high-level club teams in Brazil.
“It’s just a really good opportunity for them to go see a different culture and experience something different outside of the United States,” said Oates. “They get to experience different training being under coaches from other schools.”
According to Oates, Wooten has grown in precision and technical skills over her past two seasons as a player, as well as becoming a more open-minded person.
“In training, we do things a little bit differently especially for her position than a lot of others,” said Oates. “Also being on a team with 18 girls that have 18 different views on life, her ability to step back and go ‘okay I can still be friends with this person even if they share a different perspective.’”
Upon leaving Brazil, Wooten said she felt inspired by the tenacity of the Brazilian teams that she played against. She noticed how confident her opposing teams were in their skill sets and admired how unafraid they played despite not wanting to make any mistakes.
“My team at Berry, we are caught up in consistency, and because we are also afraid of making mistakes, we play it safer,” said Wooten. “Seeing how unafraid they were to play in Brazil also let me know that if I ever get a chance to step back on the court, play with your heart, play unafraid, just play because you can play.”