Volleyball is truly an international sport, with professional leagues in countries and continents all over the globe that provide opportunities for the standouts of the NCAA to continue playing the sport they love full-time. Even the top American players that regularly play on Team USA typically spend a portion of every year playing abroad, often moving around to different teams and leagues in pursuit of new challenges and experiences.
Many recent Washington graduates have continued their careers abroad. Since it can be tough to keep track of alumni playing in foreign countries (with team websites in foreign languages) GoHuskies.com reached out to a number of former Dawgs to hear about their lives and share their experiences with Husky fans.
Evan Sanders spent just one season at Washington but that year helped re-fire her passion for the sport and the setter has continued to pursue a pro career abroad over the past two years. Sanders came to UW from Colorado State as a senior in 2011, helping the Huskies advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Sanders is back in the States now after finishing her season with a Greek pro team. These answers were written when the season was still underway.
1) How many years have you played abroad?
This is my second season.
2) How many teams have you played?
Albi in Albi, France and A.O. Markopoulo in Markopoulo, Greece
3) What team do you currently play for? What league are they in?
A.O. Markopoulo. We are in the A1 league, which is the 1st division in Greece.
4) What are your team’s best achievements?
It's been a tough season. We've been very unlucky… lots of injuries. Actually was playing with a former Dawg, Kindra Carlson. Unfortunately she got hurt in a scrimmage at the beginning of the season and wasn't able to play a single game for us this season. We are middle of the pack in our league, but our team is very very young. I'm the oldest at only 24. Very rare to have such a young team. The average age of my team is 18.
5) What are your personal best achievements?
I just love being the "underdog" and beating the teams "we're not supposed to beat". Being underestimated as a team is a huge motivation for me.
6) What is your team’s record and how is the league structured?
Only the top four teams go to playoffs. We are currently in 7th place and unfortunately, won't be able to break into the top 4 by the end of season. There are 12 teams total in our league. The bottom 2/3 teams drop into the 2nd division for next season. We also have a Greek Cup that teams in both the 1st & 2nd division play in. Match-ups are randomly selected and you play every week until you lose. The Greek Cup is completely separate from the A1 Greek Championships.
Sanders, third from the left
7) What has been your favorite country to live in and why?
Greece has definitely been my favorite of the two countries I've lived in. Greeks are such friendly people. I've felt so welcomed here. I also love being close to the sea… it's definitely my "happy place". I'm about a 15 minute drive from the Mediterranean. And the weather here in Greece is a bonus. Haven't seen any snow all winter and was already able to hang out at the beach in February.
8) How is the foreign experience different than you imagined?
Generally speaking, the European lifestyle is just so much more "laid back". Your patience is really tested with some things. Whether it's late payments, wifi needing to be fixed, or not understanding the exercises your coach is trying to have you do in practice… things just take time. It's just much different than the fast-paced lifestyle I'm used to in the U.S. Sometimes sharing stories/experiences with other athletes who have spent time playing sports overseas helps give you an idea of what you're getting into, but at the end of the day, every athlete's overseas experience is completely different. You really never know what you're getting into until you're already there.
9) Where have you had the opportunity to travel leisurely?
I was able to visit Rome with my mama this past Christmas. We got blessed by Pope Francesco at St. Peter's Basilica on Christmas morning. We are Catholic, so that was an amazing experience. Rome was just GORGEOUS.
10) Do you enjoy the food and culture, or is it difficult to adjust to?
Overall, I've loved the food and culture here in Greece. Every now and then I come across a dish that is just too strange for me, but for the most part, it's been an easy adjustment Culturally speaking, of course there are differences, but nothing that's been difficult for me to get used to.
11) Have you learned the language (or can you just say “Small coffee, please”)?
I have NOT learned the language and I am nowhere close to learning the language. The Greek alphabet is composed of what looks like symbols to me. There are some languages where you can take a guess at the word because the spelling is similar to an English written word, but here, there's NO WAY to even guess. For example, Greeks use the letter "b" to represent a word that we would pronounce with the letter "v". It just doesn't make sense to me… haha. But I have learned the basic words/phrases (good morning, good night, hi, how are you, good, please, thank you, etc.) and can understand a lot of what my coach says… my Greek vocab is full of volleyball terms :)
12) Are you able to stay in touch with family and friends back home?
I am able to stay in touch with everyone thanks to FaceTime and Skype! The time difference is pretty crazy though. I'm 10 hours ahead of my friends in Seattle and 9 hours ahead of my friends/family in Colorado. Sleep gets sacrificed a lot… but it's worth it.
LIFE OF A PROFESSIONAL ATHLETE
13) What do you like most about playing professionally abroad?
I get paid to play the sport I love. What is there not to love about that?!
14) What is the biggest challenge being a pro athlete?
The biggest challenge being a pro athlete would be the constant grind. Eight months is a long season. Your body definitely feels it and you just have to find a way to push through the pain, the exhaustion, the frustration, etc. But the biggest challenge of being overseas is being away from the people I love. That is much more difficult for me than the physical challenge.
15) What is the biggest reward?
The experiences. I get to see new places, meet new people, try new things… and a lot of it is volleyball focused. These rewards are the same no matter where I'm playing, even in the U.S.
(Left: A Greek shrimp dish that Sanders was not particularly fond of.)
16) What was your motivation to play abroad?
I get a paycheck for pursuing my passion. Money isn't everything, but volleyball is my job. I love my job and I just haven't been ready to find a new career.
17) Is the level of competition what you expected?
Not at all. I would love to be playing at a higher level and will continue to seek more competitive volleyball every year that I continue to play. The level of competition not being what I expected just goes to show what a high level Washington plays at. Overseas will never be college. I wish it was, but it just isn't. And after playing at one of the best universities in the country, it's tough for an overseas experience to compete with that.
18) How is the style of play different?
I can't say that I've seen any differences in style of play that are consistent throughout Europe. Each team has its own focuses and I feel like teams are usually shaping their style of play around the strengths of each players. Even the style of play among the teams within Greece vary a ton from one another.
PAST AND FUTURE
19) What do you miss about playing at UW?
I miss being surrounded by a group of people who constantly want to get better. Everything we did was goal-oriented. There was a purpose for it all. We made little changes to get big results. Motivation comes so easy when everyone is on the same page, holding each other accountable, working hard for those around them. Overseas, you really have to learn how to self-motivate. Sometimes you have to create your own task list, and often times, you're the only person that's going to hold you accountable. It's a constant battle to figure out how you're going to get better. You have to make the conscious decision that falling into the trap of not working hard or developing bad habits is not an option.
20) How did UW Volleyball prepare you for the professional world?
UW volleyball helped me create a stronger work ethic. They helped me understand there's always room for improvement. You can always get better and you can always help your teammates get better. I try to bring that mindset to practice every day. I ask myself "what are you going to get better at today?" and I understand how much I can directly & indirectly impact the improvement/performance of my teammates.
21) Would you recommend other athletes to play abroad?
I think if the opportunity presents itself, it's something you should definitely try. It's not for everyone, but the things you will learn, especially about yourself, make the experience, good or bad, extremely worth it.
A comforting sight for Sanders in Athens.
22) What are your volleyball goals and aspirations for the next few years?
I would love to be able to get in the USA gym and train with the national team. Every year that I continue to play, I just want to keep getting better and continue playing at a higher level. I love to compete… that's what makes volleyball so fun for me. I'm not satisfied with where I am in terms of volleyball … not yet.
23) What career paths are you interested in after volleyball?
I've always wanted to be a kindergarten or special education teacher.