Taylor Nelson and the U.S. Women's Collegiate National Team wrapped up its first week in Bangkok, Thailand. The group has played three matches, going 1-2, with a loss to the Thai pro team Supreme VC 5-0, a loss to the Thai National Team 4-1 and a win against the Thai National Team 3-2.
The team has had some time outside of matches and practice to explore Thailand. Nelson and the rest of the team will play one more match and spend a few more days sightseeing before their return to the United States.
gopoly.com: After only a week of practicing with the team, how do you think you all are playing together?
Taylor: For the most part, we're playing really well as a team. We started off our match yesterday a little shaky but picked it up in the last set and won the fifth. Our coaches keep reminding us to just play as hard, as we can each day in the gym and the rest will come. With a focus on communication and trust within our team, we're continuing to grow as a group each day.
gopoly.com: What has been the biggest surprise since you have been there?
Taylor: One thing that surprised me here is how inexpensive everything is. We've been to a few markets and restaurants and most items we find are only a few dollars (1 US dollar is equivalent to about 34 bahts). We've also learned how to bargain with the vendors on the streets and negotiate a lower price for many of the items, which makes things more fun. Another thing that surprised me is how much we stick out as a group. Multiple people in our hotel stop and ask to take pictures with us because they can't believe how tall we are. In the U.S., it's a lot more common to see people 6'3" and above, but here in Thailand that's a lot more uncommon so we stand out like sore thumbs.
gopoly.com: Where have you traveled to so far? What is your favorite place and why?
Taylor: So far, we have visited a couple temples in Bangkok, traveled to Ayuthaya and saw a couple non-functioning temples and shopped at the floating market and Pattaya, a city on the beach. My favorite place so far is Pattaya because the resort and pool is beautiful. They have an infinity pool overlooking the ocean that we got to relax at after practice. If it doesn't rain tomorrow, we're going to take a boat to a small island and spend the day there so I'm really looking forward to that.
gopoly.com: What is the biggest difference from volleyball in Thailand to volleyball in the U.S.?
Taylor: The biggest difference in volleyball in Thailand is the speed of the game and the unique offense they run. At Cal Poly, we run a pretty fast tempo compared to most schools in the United States, but here, the offense is even faster. They also run a lot of combo plays and double quicks with players passing and hitting from all over the court. The setter on the Thai National Team, who also plays on the U23 National Team, is very deceptive which makes it hard for the block and defense to read where she's setting. We have much more height on our team but they make up for it with how scrappy they are on defense and the speed of their offense.
gopoly.com: What is the most interesting thing you've eaten?
Taylor: The most interesting things I've eaten so far are all the exotic fruits. My favorite so far is the Guava. The farmers market they have across the street has many different kinds of fruit that we've never seen in the United States. Most of the time we don't even know what it is we're eating but it all tastes delicious.
gopoly.com: What was your first impression after getting off of the flight?
Taylor: First thing we all noticed after walking out of the airport was how hot it was. It was 98 degrees, but felt like 110 with the humidity. We rode on a unique bus decorated with cloth seats and pink curtains and drove to our hotel, which is really nice (and thankfully has AC). There are vendors lining the streets all over the city and right outside our hotel is a farmers market with lots of exotic fruits, very different than San Luis Obispo's farmers markets though. People drive on the opposite side of the streets here which is hard to get used to because pedestrians do NOT have the right of way so you have to be really careful crossing the streets and look for mopeds that zoom by.
gopoly.com: What was your first time practicing with the team like and what do you like about this group?
Taylor: Our first practice as a team was pretty good considering it was our first time playing with each other. It's going to take some time to get used to playing with all new players but practice is getting better each day and the coaches are focusing on communication and trust. I really enjoy playing with such a talented group of girls and I have already learned so much from the coaches in the first few days of playing.
gopoly.com: How did your first match go?
Taylor: We played the Thai Supreme professional team first. Unfortunately we lost but we learned a lot about ourselves as a team. They run a much different system and tempo of sets than we're used to in the states, but we're learning a lot by experiencing a new type of play. It's good to be challenged and play in a state of discomfort in order to grow as a player. Today, we played the Thai National Team and won in 5 sets. We are starting to adjust to the faster tempo as well the speed of the game. We started to click as a team and it all came together. It was a lot of fun playing at such a high level consistently. I'm excited for our upcoming matches and to continually grow as a team each day.
gopoly.com: What is the most interesting thing you have seen so far?
Taylor: Today we went to our first temple called Wat Pho and it was amazing. We learned a lot about the culture here in Thailand. When visiting the temples, there is a strict dress code, you must have your ankles and shoulders covered and remove your shoes and hats before entering the temple. The journey there was quite hot but seeing the temples and how beautiful they were was well worth the heat. There were hundreds of life size Buddha statues all around inside and out of the temples. The Buddha is a very sacred image here so it is considered disrespectful to take pictures with them or use them as decoration.
gopoly.com: What do you think your biggest challenge will be as a team?
Taylor: We all come from different schools where we run different systems, so I think our biggest challenge will be learning how to adapt to the same system quickly. Since we're only here for a couple weeks and we only had two practices before our first match, we really have to work on communicating what sets work for each hitter and adapt quickly, but competing hard can help make up for any uncertainty on the court.
gopoly.com: What are you most excited about?
Taylor: I will be traveling outside the U.S. for my very first time; I'm excited to experience Thailand and its culture. I'm also very excited to play with some of the top collegiate players in the country while representing Cal Poly and USA Volleyball.
gopoly.com: What are you most nervous about?
Taylor: I'm a little nervous to leave the country for the first time because I don't really know what to expect, but everyone I know that's been to Thailand has loved it. I'm also a little nervous about the length of the flight (18 hours). My longest flights have only been to Hawaii.
gopoly.com: What is something thing you are hoping to gain from this experience?
Taylor: I am looking to gain as much knowledge and expertise from these great coaches. Both Jerritt and Paula have years of experience at both the collegiate and international levels. Also, experiencing playing under international rules will be helpful if I continue playing over sees after Poly. Lastly, gaining an appreciation for a new culture. I am hoping this experience will help me grow as a player on and off the court.
gopoly.com: Where or what in Bangkok do you want to see the most?
Taylor: I'm excited to experience a new culture and visit the different temples in the city. I have heard the Kings palace is a must see and shopping on Khaosan Road is a great experience. There's also a floating market called Damnoen Saduak that looks really fun.
gopoly.com: Do you like Thai food?
Taylor: I recently tried Thai food at the Thai Boat restaurant in SLO and really liked it. I'm curious to see how Thai food in America differs from the food in Thailand.
To stay updated on Nelson's journey in Thailand, visit gopoly.com, or follow @calpolyvolley on Instagram and Twitter.