Leaving the Nest is a weekly feature on a former Eastern Michigan University student-athlete and what they’ve been doing since graduating.
This week we feature former volleyball outside hitter Rachel Iaquaniello.
When she graduated, she was third in school history with 1,395 kills. She was also named to the All-Mid-American Conference First Team, MAC West Offensive Player of the Week and a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award, among other honors.
After graduating with a degree in Exercise Science, Iaquaniello moved to Europe and played professional volleyball for ASKÖ Linz-Steg in Austria and Laon Volleyball Club in France.
She said adjusting to life in Europe was difficult.
“It was a very tough transition,” Iaquaniello said. “The way things are – just kind of feeling alone and going over there without anybody and not being able to talk to everyone because their English isn’t so great all the time.”
She compared her initial experience on the court to being a freshman in college all over again.
“If I’m not passing the way coach wants me to pass, she’s going to change me until I do what she wants,” Iaquaniello said. “Which is kind of what they did to me. They’re on your case about being their type of player until you actually are. It [was] hard to go through that a second time.”
She said the levels of competition varied based on the particular opponent.
“It depends where you play,” Iaquaniello said. “For me it wasn’t necessarily a step up. [It was] more of a step to the side competition-wise. It’s a different atmosphere. College sports in the U.S. looks like professional sports [there]. We have a huge gym, jumbotrons and fans. Whereas over there its smaller gyms, they still have some fans – like your home field kind of made a difference. There’s other challenges besides us playing volleyball on the court that kind of made up for the faster side. You would have the challenge of communicating with your teammates on the court or adjusting to really quick game strategies. Learning the other kind of volleyball [in Europe] made it feel more competitive, but I would say the level was higher.”
Iaquaniello said the language barrier caused some issues for her on the court. She said she took some experiences and lessons from her time at Eastern to help her at those times.
“I don’t feel like the coaches always knew what to say to help me if I was struggling on the court,” Iaquaniello said. “So I think that maybe depending on what it was, I would just think about what [EMU coach Kim Berrington] would say – to always go back to basics – so that you’re doing small things right. I would think about what Berrington would tell me to get me pumped up for blocking on the court or things my teammates gave me, I guess.”
She returned home over the summer and is currently in graduate school at Grand Valley State University, studying Physical Therapy, but still finds herself on the volleyball court on occasion.
“I’m a student assistant coach – like barely ever there – but I still get in my shoes with Grand Valley’s volleyball team. I still would like to try and play some kind of volleyball, but I’m still trying to work that into school because it’s a little too demanding.”
Follow Al Willman on Twitter: @AlWillmanEcho