Local grads head to European Global Challenge

CRYSTAL LAKE – For many athletes, playing professionally is the realization of a long-held dream. Securing the exposure necessary to make that dream a reality is one of the biggest obstacles in accomplishing it.

This week, four local volleyball players will receive that important opportunity. 

Crystal Lake Central grad Amelia Anderson, Prairie Ridge grad Caitlin Brauneis, Marian Central graduate Abby Gilleland, and Cary-Grove grad Ashley Rosch headed to Pula, Croatia, on Tuesday to represent Adidas Midwest in the 10th annual European Global Challenge, where scouts from various professional volleyball organizations will see some of McHenry County’s homegrown talent firsthand. 

“I’ve always had playing overseas in the back of my mind,” said Anderson, an outside hitter at Indiana University. “Now it’s at the front of my mind, because all the scouts will be there, and that’s really exciting.” 

Gilleland, an All-American setter at Ohio University, was one of the first to commit to the 10-player roster, which will be coached by Marengo-based Club Fusion director Eric Schulze. Gilleland is the second Ohio player represented in the tournament. Cary-Grove grad and Ohio All-American outside hitter Kelly Lamberti is playing for the USA Volleyball College National Team. 

Once Gilleland found out Anderson and Rosch - an outside hitter at Illinois State - would be joining her, she realized how easily the team should click, despite having just one practice before leaving. The three helped Crystal Lake-based Sky High volleyball club win back-to-back national AAU titles during high school. Since then, they’ve played against one another but never thought they’d share the same side of the net again. 

Schulze knows the familiarity will be advantageous. Aside from the trio, all his players - recruited by Schulze based largely on recommendations from their college coaches - have either played against or are familiar with one another through club or college volleyball.

Making sure each player possessed the right skills was a separate challenge. In addition to playing six rotations - teams don’t substitute as liberally in Europe - defensive prowess is a must. 

“European style is low air and play high,” said Brauneis, who is a setter at Georgetown and will share passing responsibilities with Gilleland. Brauneis played for Schulze during her club tenure with Fusion. “They aren’t necessarily as good defensively. But everyone on our team is so versatile. With Amelia and Ashley playing all the way around, we’ll have those back row attacks and a lot of options.”

The team will face Slovenia on July 14 in group play. The tournament features six European and six United States teams in both under-22 divisions and under-17 divisions. Each team is guaranteed seven matches over four days. In between, there will be time for sightseeing in Croatia and Venice, Italy. 

The players are ready to experience the overseas culture around the sport they love. And they’re ready for scrutiny from scouts again - something they became used to on the high school club circuit, but haven’t thought much about since. 

“When you’re young in the recruiting process, you don’t understand what they’re looking for,” Gilleland said. “And then you realize that they look for different things than we think they do. Now that I understand that, I don’t really think I’m as fazed by it. I’m really excited.”

Rosch agreed. 

“I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time,” she said. “That [Schulze] even asked was so incredible. It’s all amazing.” 

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