Three recent graduates and former Head Coach Jenna Panatier represented the University of La Verne last week in Brazil as members of the USA D3 Volleyball team. Kristen Sanchez, Kelsie Sievers, and Katelyn Winiecki were all selected to join the team along with Panatier who coached the squad, making La Verne the most represented university on the team.
The USA DIII Volleyball Teams are invited NCAA Division III men's and women's players from across the country. This team is comprised of players recognized as All-Americans, All-Region, and All-Conference. The ten women's players represented six different colleges and universities and came from six different home states and the ten men's players hailed from seven different schools and nine different home states.
"This is an outstanding group of young men and women," said USA Sports Tours & Events Director Ron Smith. "Many of the players on this year's USA/Brazil Tour team had great individual seasons and led their teams into postseason play. This tour is designed to expose players to a great volleyball experience while providing a once in a lifetime opportunity for educational, cultural and social growth."
The squad met in Orlando before heading to Sao Paulo, Brazil later that night. After a day of practice, the team played games the next two days in Jundiai and Campinas. Following both matches, the group left for Rio de Janeiro and competed in the Marina Barra Clube International Challenge the next day. The International Challenge pitted the USA against top U22 club teams in two matches.
"We only had one practice together before we had our first international match so it was a little hectic getting to know everyone as players, but we had a lot of time to get to know everyone as people," said recent La Verne graduate Kristen Sanchez. "It was cool seeing us come from all over the country, come together, and make friendships quickly while doing what we all love. I'm really glad I was able to have this unique experience."
While in Brazil the teams experienced educational, cultural, and social aspects of Brazilian life through city, school, and sports club visits. While in Rio the team stayed on the famous Copacabana Beach and toured the Christ the Redeemer statue and Sugar Loaf Mountain.
"Seeing Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain was cool because they are both so iconic. It was nice to be more than just athletes and just explore Brazil," said Sanchez.
The trip had extra significance for the Leopards as it gave the recent graduates and Panatier one final time to share the court together.
"It was a super special experience for us since it was all of our last competitive games," said Sanchez. "Getting to have one last go around with them on the court and getting to see the sites with them was great. It's awesome being able to say I ended my career as a player playing internationally with my teammates and coach."
For Panatier it was her second time coaching the USA DIII team; the veteran coach first made the trip to Brazil six years ago. But her second trip added more meaning since it would be her last time leading a team on the floor. Panatier recently announced that she would step down as the Leopards' head coach and help lead the La Verne athletics department in a full-time role as the senior associate athletics director and senior woman administrator.
"I really had a chance to savor those last few games. I felt like I bookended my career with an incredible experience coaching phenomenal people," said Panatier. "I am so grateful for everything volleyball has done for me. To be able to have that memory for my last coaching experience makes a profound statement to my journey."
This is the second straight year a La Verne student-athlete was invited to join a USA DIII Team. Last summer Clarissa Perez represented the Leopards in Brazil as a member of the USA DIII Women's Basketball team.
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