Guilherme Torres covers Brazilian volleyball for VolleyballMag.com. His interview with Julia Bergman in Portuguese is at the end of this story. Also, we have another story listing as many Brazilians that we would find in NCAA volleyball this season. You can read that story here.
(Nossa entrevista em português com Julia Bergmann está no fim da reportagem. Também temos uma outra reportagem listando todas as brasileiras que encontramos jogando na NCAA nesta temporada).
Not many things take precedence in the life of an up-and-coming volleyball player over being part of her country’s national team.
And yet, after wearing the traditional yellow uniform of Brazil for the first time earlier this year, 18-year-old outside hitter Julia Bergmann made a decision that can potentially postpone her dream of competing for the Brazilian Olympic team.
The 6-foot-5 outside hitter, who played for Brazil during both the FIVB Volleyball Nations League and the Pan-American Games in 2019, turned down offers to start her professional career and joined Georgia Tech’s program last summer as she pursues a physics degree.
While she’s Georgia Tech’s offensive leader and one of the top freshman in NCAA volleyball, her decision didn’t have the blessing of Brazil’s national team head coach José Roberto Guimarães, who said in an interview to Globo Esporte that in his opinion Julia should continue her career in Brazil and pursue her college dream later.
“I know that it looks like a risk to the future of my playing career, but I want to play professionally when I’m done here,” Bergman told VolleyballMag.com.
“There’s an age-limit for us to start our student-athlete careers, so I had to make this decision now and I thought it was a great opportunity for me to keep playing while I pursued my degree, which is not something so easy to do in Brazil. I wanted to continue playing and studying and I don’t think I could find a better situation to do so than this one as the American academic system is very well-structured for that.”
On her Georgia Tech biography, Bergmann’s home town is listed as Munich, because she was born in Germany, but she went to high school in Brusque, Brazil, and was part of a team that won the South American U-20 Championships in 2018 and played in the last two editions of the age-group’s World Championships.
The first impression Bergmann had from her new in life in Atlanta couldn’t be any better. She revealed she was anxious about having to conciliate her playing career with her academic obligations, but she found a friendly and helpful system in place to support her.
“I arrived in Atlanta two months ago and the first weeks were for adjustment, especially with the academic side of things,” she explained. “The system here is very helpful. There’s a big focus on making sure that despite of our athletic commitments we are also doing well on classes, so we have people who travel with us and keep monitoring our grades and tutors who are always available when we need help in a specific subject.
“It was important for me to find the best way to conciliate the classes with the practices and the traveling, so now I feel more comfortable with all that.”
Her stats, for sure, look like the ones of a player who’s already settled into a new environment. After beating North Carolina on Friday night Georgia Tech won its seventh match in a row to improve to 15-7 this season, 8-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Bergmann, who had 15 kills, two aces, four assists, 10 digs and two blocks, and setter Matti McKissock are the only Yellow Jackets to play in all 78 sets this season.
Bergman leads the team in kills (282, 3.62/set), aces (37) and is second in digs (237, 3.04/set). Georgia Tech plays at NC State on Sunday as it tries to keep pace at the top pf the ACC.
Some parts of the college game, though, especially a few NCAA-specific rules, caught her by surprise.
“The main differences I noticed are the pace of the game and the fact that there’s a lot of attention with the defensive system,” she said. “Some rules are also different and it took me a while to understand them.
“It was very weird when I first saw a libero serving and I didn’t know that the play should continue after the ball hit the celling of the arena, so I was celebrating points before the end of the rally a few times until I really absorbed it.”
Georgia Tech’s team has plenty of Brazilian flavor. Not only is sophomore outside Mariana Brambilla from Porto Alegre, Brazil, head coach Michelle Collier and assistant Claudio Pinheiro are both from Brazil.
Pinheiro was an assistant coach with Brazil’s national team between 2005 and 2017, winning Olympic gold medals in both the 2008 Beijing and the 2012 London Games. He has the opportunity to both mentor Bergmann and also be a connection to Brazil’s Guimaraes, with whom he worked for 12 years before joining Georgia Tech.
“His presence was certainly a factor in my decision,” Bergmann said of Pinheiro. “Having a coach with his experience, someone who’s a two-time Olympic champion, I’m sure I have a lot to learn from him. And to have him in such a great college, one of the best in nation, it was the perfect situation. I fully trust Michelle and him to guide me as I try to get better as a player and as a person.”
Bergmann was born in Munich and also has a German passport that could open several doors in Europe after she ends her time at Georgia Tech, but playing professionally in Brazil is also something she would enjoy.
“I felt like 2019 was my first step with the national team,” she said. “I matured a lot during these three or four months in which I was with the national team. I learned so much from José Roberto, I can tell it was a massive leap on my development. And to share the court with players as Natalia and Gabi, it was an honor, it was certainly a great time for me.
“But for now, I just want to focus on what I have in front of me and in developing in the best way I can and let the future take its own course. Of course I would love to play in the Olympics, but if it’s not in 2020 it could happen in 2024 or later, so we’ll see.”