Bradley ready for Puerto Rico volleyball trip, “a blessing in disguise”

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Bradley-Emma Raleigh-Abby Ihrke, Katherine Poore-Hannah Alexander-Erica Haslag
Bradley's Emma Raleigh, Abby Ihrke, Katherine Poore, Hanna Alexander, and Erica Haslag at the fundraiser Saturday at Walmart in Peoria.

The plan was to go to Nicaragua.

Instead, on Tuesday the Bradley volleyball team flies to Puerto Rico.

And, in this case, with a renewed sense of purpose.

Not that there wasn’t a purpose in going to Nicaragua.

“We were going to Nicaragua to obviously play volleyball on a foreign tour,” third-year Bradley coach Carol Price-Torok said.

But the trip, being conducted by Bring It Promotions, the group run by Tim Kelly and widely used by most NCAA programs for foreign tours the world over, also included charity and service work.

“We also going to help a school for disabilities, a women’s co-op, a mobile library, things like that,” Price-Torok said. “We wanted to make sure we could do more than just volleyball and try to make an impact and give our girls an experience to see what the rest of the world looks like.

“Not just have a great vacation with sightseeing, but give them the experience to see what else is out there and maybe tie it into their majors or what they want to do and just think outside the box.”

But the best-laid plans …

“Three weeks ago Daniel Ortega, the president of Nicaragua who is practically a dictator since he’s in his third term, presented some social-security reforms and people protested,” said Kelly, the former UCLA player. “And it turned into basically the startings of a civil war.”

The U.S. Department of State told Americans they should “reconsider travel to Nicaragua due to crime and civil unrest.”

BIP immediately felt the impact.

“We had seven teams within a week canceling their tours who were going to Nicaragua,” Kelly said. “Everyone in May, June, July and August was either re-routing to either Costa Rica or Puerto Rico. And Carol has a Puerto Rican on her team.”

Few places are more volleyball passionate than Puerto Rico, which has supplied countless NCAA women’s and men’s programs with top players.

Bradley-Braves-Hannah Angeli-Alissa Schovanec-Yavi Rosado-Sarah Shaw-Sara Maddox
Hannah Angeli, Alissa Schovanec, Yavi Rosado, Sarah Shaw and Sara Maddox at Bradley’s Saturday fundraiser

Yavianliz Rosado, who will be a senior libero next season, is from Morovis, an area in the middle of the island about 35 miles southwest of San Juan that was particularly hard hit in last summer’s back-to-back hurricanes that decimated the country.

We did a story last October on the effect it was having on Puerto Rican players in NCAA volleyball programs, including interviewing Rosado’s older sister, Dalianliz, who was a senior libero for Minnesota.

So Yavi, as she’s called, is excited about this twist to the Bradley itinerary.

“They’re going to see where I’m from and experience my culture and see my family. I’m excited because I’m going to play in front of my family and my friends, since they’re never seen me play since I went to college,” said Rosado, who started at San Jose State and transferred after two years to Bradley, which is located in Peoria, Ill.

“And it’s just nice that we’re going to go there and help people. It’s still bad. Things are getting better, but it’s super slow, and there are a lot of people who need help.”

Rosado, who couldn’t talk to her family for a couple of weeks after the hurricanes, said her family’s home wasn’t damaged badly — they were without water for a long time — but nearby areas were hit really hard.

“For us to go there will let them know people really care and we really want to help,” Rosado said.

The team will play three matches, including Thursday on the west side of the island in San German and another in San Juan. One of Rosado’s opponents will likely be her sister in one of the matches.

But volleyball will take a back seat to the real world on this trip with a travel party of 22, including 14 players, the Bradley staff and Price-Torok’s husband, Matt.

“The reason I got behind it and tried to promote it is the last six months to a year, all kinds of people have been calling me asking me why we’re not running volleyball tours (to Puerto Rico), trying to help them and we haven’t been able to get anyone who was willing to go,” Kelly said.

“So Bradley is the first school that’s been willing to take a chance and do it.

“And there’s been a pretty good outpouring of support.”

Price-Torok, who has never been to Puerto Rico, and her team got proactive, from soliciting monetary donations online to doing a big fundraiser this past Saturday at a Walmart in Peoria where people could donate supplies.

Bradley has six seniors on its 2018 roster, it had already raised money for the trip, so there was no way they weren’t going, even if American Airlines made it tougher than it should be.

“Every player should get to go on one of these trips and travel and see the world,” she said. Price-Torok said the players’ families have helped out a lot, they’re reached out to friends, and done as much fundraising as possible as the Bradley volleyball program looks forward to its first foreign trip, although Puerto Rico is America.

“This has been a blessing in disguise for us,” Price-Torok said.

Not everyone recognizes that.

American Airlines would not waive the ticket-change fees nor waive the checked-luggage fees for the items being donated, Price-Torok said. There was some upside in that the tickets to San Juan were cheaper.

“We had to just roll with that,” Price-Torok said.

“We’re accepting donations to help with the bag fees and things like that because we’re trying to take as much stuff as we can.”

Kelly — along with Puerto Rican volleyball fixture Steven Fenosik — said he’s trying to arrange as much as he could with locally owned businesses, but it’s been hard.

Bradley is going to donate to a couple of senior-citizens home and a women’s center, bringing clothing, medicine, supplies.

“We spent a bunch of money on that that was in our hotel budget because they were going to put us in homes,” Kelly said. “But some of these homes, as it turned out, are condemned, some are without water or power, they’re not able to get generators like they thought they would be able to. So we started looking at guest houses and they can’t handle it.

“I hate to call it a comedy of errors, but it’s been hard work and Steven has been working really hard on it. So we started the fundraiser.”

And the Bradley women were all in. Price-Torok, who formerly was an assistant at Arkansas where she coached five Puerto Rican players, is excited they will all be there.

Understand that this also a fun trip and there will sightseeing, beach time, a boat trip and more.  Fenosik, for one, is thrilled to be the host for the Braves as Puerto Rico goes through what he calls “the new normal.” While his home in the San Juan suburb of Carolina is finally back to that new normal, many places on the island still are suffering.

For example, he said that the facility they’d like to use in Morovis is unplayable, but Bradley will do community service there.

“The local collegiate season was derailed. Add to that there was no professional league on the women’s side and that was pretty bad on the volleyball side,” Fenosik said. “Now with the arrival of Bradley, hopefully the other teams on the mainland will use Puerto Rico to do their training or community service.”

Bradley-Emma Raleigh-Erica Haslag
Bradley’s Emma Raleigh and Erica Haslag

BIP’s Brooke Rundle, who lives in Nicaragua and will join Bradley on the trip, told us that Rosado’s home will be transformed into a distribution center for the supplies. Bradley will also conduct youth volleyball clinics and play exhibition matches in the village against local players, many of whom are ex-NCAA players.  

In addition, USA Volleyball collected balls from the Colorado State high school championships and is sending 460 coloring books, 200 beach-ball volleyballs, 40 volleyballs and two net bags, all of which Bradley will transport and distribute to local schools and volleyball clubs. 

Kelly joked that “we’re guinea-pigging Bradley,” since is the first tour to Puerto Rico since the storms.

“We’re taking some of our community-service and outreach skills to the next level on this one,” Kelly said. “Once Bradley’s done we’ll know exactly what we can do and we’ll know how to be the most efficient as far as being able to help people.

“You know, it’s one thing to bring volleyballs down and let kids know you love ‘em, but if we get them into some of these places where people really need help, like old-folks homes and orphanages and women’s shelters and really bring supplies that people need to survive, that’s going to be a cooler thing than what we’re used to.”

Price-Torok is ready.

“It’s exciting. I told the kids we’re going to roll with it,” she said. “It might not go as planned or be as organized as we’re used to, but we’re going to be there, immerse ourselves into the culture and the people and just enjoy it.”

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