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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.
Lauren Barfield was a commanding presence at the middle of the net for the Huskies from 2008 to 2011, helping UW to four-straight NCAA tourney appearances and two Elite Eight runs in 2008 and 2010. She ranked in the top-10 in the Pac-12 in blocks as a junior and senior, and finished her career ranking ninth in UW history with 1.12 blocks per set. She also hit .344 as a junior and .327 as a senior, ranking eighth in the Pac-12. A three-time Pac-12 All-Academic honorable mention, Barfield earned her degree in Sociology and is now in her second year playing abroad.
1) How many years have you played abroad?
I'm currently in my 2nd season.
2) How many teams have you played for?
Askö-Linz Steg (Austria) in the 12-13 season
Siódemka SK Bank Legionovia Legionowo (Poland) in this 13-14 season.
3) What team do you currently play for? What league are they in?
Siódemka SK Bank Legionovia Legionowo. They're in the Orlen League (women's Polish league).
4) What are your team’s best achievements?
My current team has just made playoffs, which is a step up from last season. My previous team (Askö-Linz Steg) advanced to the Quarterfinals of CEV Cup, a major tournament in Europe.
5) What are your personal best achievements?
This season, we had big wins over Impel Wrocław and BKS Aluprof Bielsko-Biała, two of the better teams in our league. Some of the best volleyball we've played all season.
6) What is your team’s record and how is the league structured (playoffs, finals, championships, etc.)?
We're currently 4-14. We just finished regular season with 17 points, 8th in the league of 10 and we're preparing for playoffs. First we play the Polish Cup, then after that in the middle of March, we start playoffs with Chemik Police, the top team in our league.
7) What has been your favorite place to live in and why?
I've lived in Austria and Poland. Both countries have had a lot of natural beauty. I enjoy the food in Poland. I also love the volleyball fanbase. Volleyball is the national sport of Poland, so there are tons of great fans.
8) How is the foreign experience different than you imagined?
You can't really plan for the differences you experience. All you can really do is approach every situation with an open mind. There are bound to be challenges, but they make you stronger as a person.
9) Where have you had the opportunity to travel leisurely?
For Christmas, I went to Kraków, a gorgeous old city in the south of Poland.
10) Do you enjoy the food and culture, or is it difficult to adjust to?
I do enjoy the food here. There is a traditional Polish restaurant that I go to often. That being said, it's hard to find variety in Poland when it comes to food and I miss eating back home. The culture is quite different, but that's a part of traveling and working in another country. You learn how to handle the differences.
11) Have you learned the language (or can you just say “Small coffee, please”)?
Polish is a notoriously difficult language to learn, especially for Americans. I've learned volleyball specific Polish (piłka = ball, środkowa bloku = middle blocker, wysoka = high ball, for example), but in everyday situations, I'm limited to "hello"/"hi" (dzień dobry/cześć), "good bye" (do widzenia), and "thank you" (dziękuje). I've learned how to order 1/4 a kilo of ham at the butcher, of which I'm quite proud ("Poproszę, jedna czwarta kilo szynki").
12) Are you able to stay in touch with family and friends back home?
Yes, Viber, Skype, Snapchat and of course Facebook are all helpful in keeping in touch overseas. Also, my old UW teammates are also playing in Europe, so we keep in touch often. I text Bianca Rowland and Kelcey Dunaway a lot.
LIFE OF A PROFESSIONAL ATHLETE
13) What do you like most about playing professionally abroad?
14) What is the biggest challenge being a pro athlete?The opportunity to travel is amazing (Krakow on right). I wouldn't have visited half the places I've been if it weren't for pro volleyball. I also like the opportunity to improve playing with and against really good European players.
Adjusting to the different style of play. The language barrier can be difficult. Uprooting year after year.
15) What is the biggest reward?
Improving your game. Playing with and against talented, experienced players forces you to up your game, which is great. The greatest feeling is knowing that you've improved and are getting better. And getting to see the world.
16) Is the level of competition what you expected?
In the Orlen League, yes. It's a high level with big name players, big time sponsors, television matches. Poland is a good country for high level volleyball.
17) How is the style of play different?
It's a bit slower and more tactical in Europe I think. In the U.S., we have big, strong athletes and we run everything fast, fast, fast.
PAST AND FUTURE
18) What do you miss about playing at UW?
Often, in Europe, players bounce from team to team, a different country every season. I miss being really close to my teammates, having a strong vibe on the court.
19) How did UW Volleyball prepare you for the professional world?
Mental toughness. To only think about the things which I control.
20) Would you recommend other athletes to play abroad?
Absolutely! It really is an experience unlike any other. A chance to get paid to do what you love plus the opportunity to travel. Also, there are many different leagues and teams playing on different levels, so there's something for everyone.
21) What are your volleyball goals and aspirations for the next few years?
I want to train with USA volleyball, continue to improve my technical game. I want to keep playing, improve my level of play and see more countries.
22) What career paths are you interested in after volleyball?
I'm really considering returning to school after I'm finished. But we'll see, right now I'm focusing on making the most of my volleyball career.