In late spring and early summer we see quite a few NCAA teams head out of the country.
Normally they go to Europe or Brazil and mix in great sightseeing and some quality volleyball.
And then there’s Lipscomb.
The team is on its way to Malawi, a small country in east Africa. While the Bison will be packing some volleyballs — after all, you’ve got to pepper now and then — this is not a volleyball trip.
The team will partner with the Sara Walker Foundation and Chikondi Health Foundations in Malawi and will work with orphans in the Mtendere Village. On the docket are sports clinics, tutoring, nutrition counseling, assisting in the hospital and the mobile medical clinic. The volleyball team won’t be alone, since there are other Lipscomb groups coming and going at different times.
“The university is really focused on providing these opportunities as a whole,” said Brandon Rosenthal, who will start his 15th season as head coach at the Nashville school in August. “Eighty-percent of the students at Lipscomb do some sort of mission work during their four years. It’s pretty amazing that a university puts that emphasis and has a whole office dedicated. On a year-round basis there are about 65 trips worldwide that take place. It’s pretty cool and when you put the numbers to it it’s pretty impressive.”
The travel party totals 20, which includes Rosenthal, associate head coach Billy Ebel, 15 players, director of sports nutrition and former Lipscomb assistant coach Ann Toy, friend of the program Jenni Whitefield who has been to Malawi before, and Rosenthal’s daughter, 12-year-old Jake.
“She’s at an age right now that it will be a lot of fun to have her there and get her to experience some things that I imagine will kind of shock her,” Rosenthal said with a laugh. “And it comes at a point in her life when we could probably that use that in a sense of giving her a more worldly view.”
Malawi is landlocked but not far from the Indian Ocean.
“The unknown and the anticipation has been building as the days get nearer and nearer,” Rosenthal said.
Malawi is bordered on the north by Tanzania, to the west by Zambia and to the east and south by Mozambique. It has a population of 16.3 million according to the country’s official website and the official language is English.
“I am beyond excited,” junior-to-be outside hitter Carlyle Nusbaum said.
Nusbaum, who is from suburban Kansas City and making her first trip out of the country, admitted to being a bit anxious. After all, most people reading this story had not likely heard of Malawi before now.
“We were told about this at the end of the school year my freshman year,” Nusbaum said. “So we’ve known for over a full year ago that we were going to Malawi. Some of us were like, ‘Where is that?’ They told us and once we knew more about it, there was definitely more excitement.
“I know some of the parents are concerned, not because they don’t want us to leave the country, just because it is Africa and there are circumstances that we’re not used to. But I’ve heard how awesome it and what a huge opportunity.
“(Lipscomb) has been going there for quite a few years and it’s kind of cool to get incorporated into that.”
Rosenthal agreed. Four years ago Rosenthal took his team to Rio de Janiero, where the group played one match and did mission work.
“It was quite an experience,” he said.
He said that trip was a great primer in more ways than one.
“We were robbed at gunpoint in Rio,” he recalled. “It’s definitely part of the story but I’d hate to make it the big part of the story because of what came from it. The support from the university was great. Within a half hour I was talking to our support team and the president of our university and assessed the situation and the insurance group they worked with.
“As a head coach in a really nerve-wracking situation it was awesome to be able to make one phone call and be talking to a group of 10 supporters who knew exactly what we needed to do.”
“I won’t breathe easy until we get back (June 5) because I’m responsible for these girls, but that’s everywhere we go,” Rosenthal said. “It’s just part of being a head coach.”
The part about being in Africa and not being the leader is nice, too.
“Every day for me is planned out for me before it happens, Rosenthal said. “What I mean by that is that there are very days where I wake up and wonder what I’m doing that day. You wake up and the list of things to do every day starts at 10 things and by 9 o’clock it’s up over 30.
“One of the things I’m looking forward to is literally waking up in the morning and doing whatever needs to be done wherever I’m asked to be.”
There’s also the element of team bonding.
“We’ve talked about it. We are always together when it is sports related, whether it’s at a basketball as a team, or practicing or going to a team dinner or something, but we’ve never really done something like this,” said Nusbaum, a product of St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park, Kansas, where she grew up with Lipscomb teammate Brittany Thomas.
“It’s pretty cool to travel for something other than volleyball.”
Not that volleyball won’t factor in. Rosenthal was glad to report that Spikeball is sending equipment with Lipscomb.
“They’ve been gracious enough to give us some product that we can take over the leave with them,” Rosenthal said. “It’s an outdoors game you can play on the grass or sand that kind of mimics some of the same rules as volleyball.”
From Spikeball’s website: The sport of roundnet is played 2 vs 2, with a taut hoola hoop sized Spikeball net placed between the teams. A player starts a point by serving the ball down on the net so it ricochets up at his opponents. They have up to three hits between them (just like Volleyball) to control the ball and bounce it back off the net. When they miss, you score. Did we mention that there are no boundaries? Once a point starts, players can move or hit the ball anywhere.
“That’s part of the experience, to bring the game to them and we’re going to do it in a couple of different ways,” Rosenthal said. “Volleyball itself and then Spikeball.”
This trip cost each player $3,000, but they raised all the money themselves through various team efforts and projects, including what they called “a night out with LUV,” where the players were babysitters for donations.
They flew Thursday to Washington, D.C., heading Friday from D.C. non-stop to Ethopia — a 14-hour flight — and then on to Malawi, about a four-hour flight. Which is a bit different than the travel in the ASUN (Atlantic Sun Conference), a league in which the Bison finished 12-2 last year and 22-8 overall, which included losing at Kansas State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“I hope it will bring us together not only spiritually but that we will communicate better as a team and be more on the same page,” Nusbaum said. “Obviously a huge part of a being a team is chemistry and if we’re not just forced to be around each each other two weeks straight with no technology, I think it will be kind of cool to learn more about each other.”
And for Nusbaum, it’s the start of a busy summer. As soon as they get back, she’ll be in summer school before leaving July 5 to be on the USA Volleyball Collegiate National Team that will play in the 13th Annual European Global Challenge July 11-14 in Pula, Croatia.
So in one summer she will make her first and second trips out of the country.