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.
Tamari Miyashiro's volleyball journey brought her from her native Hawai'i to Washington as a setter in the fall of 2005. Redshirting the season in which UW won the NCAA title, Miyashiro switched to a libero role and quickly became one of the best in the country and in the history of the Pac-12 conference.
Miyashiro was a three-time All-American and two-time National Defensive Player of the Year from Volleyball Magazine. Miyashiro has quickly become a regular on the U.S. National Team, as she and Courtney Thompson became the first two U.S. Olympians from Washington in 2012, winning the silver medal in London. She has now played on the national team in seven international tournaments in addition to her professional travels, which have taken her to four different countries in Europe.
1) How many years have you played abroad?
2) What teams have you played for?
2010 SVS Post (Vienna, Austria)
2011 BKS ALuprof (Bielsko-Biala, Poland)
2012 Lokomotiv Baku (Baku, Azerbaijan)
2013 Rote Raben (Vilsbiburg, Germany)
3) What team do you currently play for? What league are they in?
Rote Raben in Vilsbiburg. We are in the German league (Bundesliga) and Cup and European CEV Cup
4) What are your team’s best achievements?
2012 runner-up German league.
5) What are your personal best moments?
My first season in Vienna, Austria I played with former Huskies Jill Collymore and Courtney Thompson and this year in Germany with Jenna Hagglund.
6) What is your team’s record and how is the league structured?
Rote Raben will play in the German Cup final on March 2nd (Miyashiro's team came out on top). Teammate and former Husky Jenna Hagglund also currently plays for Rote Raben and the team will be playing former Husky Bianca Rowland who plays for German team Suhl.
7) What has been your favorite country to live in and why?
Vienna is a really beautiful city. Vilsbiburg is a small German town outside of Munich and its beautiful as well. It’s a lot smaller than Vienna but this little town has a little heart of its own.
Miyashiro with Rote Raben after winning the German league title in March of 2014.
8) How is the foreign experience different than you imagined?
Playing overseas has been really tough but also has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. I have been challenged in so many ways, I have been able to travel around the world and have had opportunities to meet some of the most incredible people all while playing volleyball. Living in a different country has been humbling and it forced me to be open to new things.
9) Where have you had the opportunity to travel leisurely?
I got to visit Rome, Paris and Istanbul.
10) Do you enjoy the food and culture, or is it difficult to adjust to?
I enjoy learning about other cultures and will occasionally try local cuisine. I tried several dishes in Austria, Poland and Germany and not too many in Azerbaijan. You also get to learn a little about culture from local girls on the team. Most cities have decent grocery stores and restaurants so I tend to stick to foods I am familiar with; it’s one thing you can control that also keeps you close to home while you are so far away.
11) Have you learned the language (or can you just say “Small coffee, please”)?
I have not mastered any foreign language by any means. I think I know the most German out of the three languages. I used to know quite a bit of volleyball phrases in Polish but I forgot most of them and in Azerbaijan my coach spoke Italian and English so I was never forced to learn Azeri or Russian. English is taught in many places so we are spoiled in that sense.
12) Are you able to stay in touch with family and friends back home?
Yes, Skype, email, iMessage, whatsapp, voxer are my go-tos.
LIFE OF A PROFESSIONAL ATHLETE
13) What do you like most about playing professionally abroad?
I love the challenge and I love seeing the world. Living in a foreign country taught me a lot about myself. It helped me figure out what’s important. Living in America is great but I always had what I needed and it was fairly easy to get, then you move overseas and something as simple as trying to get a SIM card for your phone can take hours.
14) What is the biggest challenge being a pro athlete?
One of the biggest challenges is basically just doing your job at a high level on a consistent basis. Competing at your best as much as you can is hard enough then adding all these other factors that usually you have no control over can be mentally, emotionally and physically draining on your body. The recovery aspect of performance is very low on the priority list when you play overseas so it can be challenging making sure you are doing everything you can to recover.
15) What is the biggest reward?
Growth, maturation, life experiences, life lessons, meeting people, playing against and with some of the world's greatest volleyball players.
16) What was your motivation to play abroad?
I play overseas for many reasons, one of my biggest reasons is to help get me ready for the National Team. It is also a job; this is where many of the national team players accumulate some income so that we are allowed to focus on the national team when we are in the states. Playing overseas also gets you exposure for future club teams as well.
17) Is the level of competition what you expected?
The level of play overseas is great. They value professional volleyball more than Americans do and have had a system in place for years so professional volleyball is clearly more established than anything we have in the States. I’ve played in some tough leagues against pretty good teams but you expect that sort of thing when going overseas. Teams get to pick players from a pretty big selection so usually these teams are pretty good. Based on the country, you will have different levels of expectation going into each season.
18) How is the style of play different?
So far I can speak on behalf of the European leagues, and many of these girls play volleyball growing up and start with a club and stay with them while developing and maybe eventually move clubs as they improve. I’ve played in some cities where they have volleyball schools. It’s a little different from the States. From my experience the players overseas have good arms, many of them tend to put a premium on offense. From a libero standpoint they are really good servers. They can get a lot of heat on the ball and make the ball float consistently.
PAST AND FUTURE
19) What do you miss about playing at UW?
I miss the environment at UW. UW holds a very special place in my heart. Moving to Seattle was my first big move away from little Hawai'i. This is where I've made some of my closest friends created some of my greatest memories in my life so far. When I played at UW the Alaska Airlines Arena was called Hec Ed and it was one of greatest environments to play college volleyball. Playing for people who enjoy the game and support your passion towards something is really powerful to me. It makes the hard stuff worth it. We had some pretty consistent crowds on the weekends which is great for the game and program.
Miyashiro with a good spot just up and to the left of Vice President Biden as the U.S. Olympians are honored at the White House.
20) How did UW Volleyball prepare you for the professional world?
UW Volleyball put me in a competitive environment every day and challenged me as a person and player. This was the first place where I had to be accountable for myself. Playing for Jim and his staff allowed me to channel my competitive energy towards the good of the team. I believe I learned how to compete at UW. Jim helped me develop as a player in so many ways that helped me move on to the next level. From day one Jim was honest about where I was and what I had to do to be where I wanted to be. People always tell you what you want to hear and he was one of the first to tell me what I needed to hear.
21) Would you recommend other athletes to play abroad?
Yes. If you truly enjoy playing your sport and being in a new environment this is a great experience to take in. Some of my most life-changing moments came from playing overseas and these experiences will always be something I cherish and am proud of. Playing overseas means you are sacrificing a lot. You miss out on so many things but it’s a commitment you have to be willing to make when you sign a contract.
22) What are your volleyball goals and aspirations for the next few years?
I plan to continue earning a spot on the national team and hopefully help the team win the gold medal in Rio (in the 2016 Olympics). Whatever that looks like, that’s what I want to be a part of within the next couple years.
23) What career paths are you interested in after volleyball?
I would like to travel a bit when I retire from playing and visit places as a tourist and maybe do some humanitarian work. Eventually I would like to coach at the collegiate level.