International recruits adjust to Kent State

Ashley Sepanski

Watch a video about the team’s international players.

Seven new players joined the Kent State volleyball team this year, most of them arriving from the Midwest. Three of the rookies, however, traveled more than a few hours.

Arjola Prenga, Liva Brivule and Zuzana Markova all flew more than 4,000 miles to join the Flashes. They left their families, friends and lives behind to dabble in something different.

It’s been three months since they first arrived in Kent, knowing almost no English, but all three girls agree: They would not trade the experience for anything.

“OK, I’m here. Welcome to the United States!”

Markova made the decision to come to Kent State after a two-day visit last April.

“I was nervous when I first came,” she said. “It was only a visit, so it was like ‘OK, I’m here . Welcome to the United States!’ It was nice, though. I spent the two days with the team.”

Markova said Kent State recruited her after a scout saw her play in her home country, the Czech Republic. Markova said the scout wrote a report about her after asking if she wanted to play in the United States. Shortly after, American universities started making offers.

“(My friends) were all jealous,” Markova said. “Everybody was like ‘Hey, I want to go, too.'”

“Nobody knew that (I was coming to the U.S.)”

Prenga kept her decision to travel a secret.

“In Albania, (nobody) knew that (I was coming to the U.S.),” Prenga said. “They only knew Kent State wanted me to come but not that I was coming. I only said ‘I don’t know, I’m not sure.’ Only my family and my boyfriend knew.”

Prenga’s first offer to join Kent State came after coach Glen Conley saw her play in Albania. After originally refusing, Prenga changed her mind and went to the U.S. Embassy to get a visa, then said goodbye to her family and boyfriend.

“I talk with my family and boyfriend every day on the phone and Internet,” Prenga said. “It’s hard, so, so hard (to be away from my boyfriend).”

“I said yes because I wanted to try.”

Brivule found her way to Kent State much like Markova. An American scout attending one of Brivule’s matches in Latvia offered her the opportunity to play in the U.S.

With her family behind her, Brivule accepted right away.

“I said yes because I wanted to try,” Brivule said. “My mother said ‘You need to go there if you have this chance, because there are more opportunities.'”

Even though the Atlantic Ocean separates Brivule from the rest of her family, her sister, Linda, lives in Texas where she throws javelin for track and field at Abilene Christian.

“I am close with my sister, Linda, and I miss her a lot,” Brivule said. “I call (Linda) every day. She is like my mom – she is here and close to me.”

Learning how to play all over again

In addition to obvious adjustments like culture and language, the women had to relearn volleyball.

“First, what I (noticed) is it’s so (much) faster,” Brivule said. “My first two weeks, I think every practice I cried because I (couldn’t) understand this system and how they play. For me it was hard.”

The main differences affecting the three were speed, multiple places to hit and the libero being able to serve. In Europe, liberos are not permitted to serve, there are limited hitting positions and teams generally play at a slower pace.

“I’m trying to catch the level here and also the speed,” Markova said. “Maybe my mind slows. It’s hard to understand in English because you have to translate and then judge in English (how to play).”

Despite the changes, the three are still passionate about playing. Brivule said her favorite aspect of the game is blocking.

“When I stop somebody, it’s like I feel the next level than the people who hit the ball,” Brivule said.

Markova, a setter, actually enjoys hitting.

“When you set, you participate, but you don’t make any points,” Markova said. “Hitting, you can smash anyone (in) the face,” she added, pausing to laugh. “It’s funny.”

Prenga said she enjoys everything.

“I like (how) before games, we are (always) together, the whole team,” Prenga said. “In the games, I like, I think everything. When I serve, when I hit, when I dig, when I block, I like everything.”

Although Prenga, Markova and Brivule have had tough transitions to American life, the girls are content.

“I’m doing great,” Prenga said. “I have my teammates, I have my roommates and I have my classes.”

“I’m more comfortable now,” Markova added.

Contact sports reporter Ashley Sepanski at [email protected].