Volleyball coach wins tourney overseas

Volleyball coach Claire Lessinger has recently added a new accomplishment to her resume: champion.

Coach Lessinger recently returned from a tournament in Comunanza, Italy, where she helped lead a team of 17 players and six coaches to the Sibillini Tournament title.

“This tournament features some of the best kids from across the country, under 20 (years old),” Lessinger said. “Just having the opportunity go to Italy and coach these players was incredible.”

The tournament, which is run every year by Bring It Promotions, features some of the best under-20 players in the world, with several countries sending teams to the small city of Comunanza. This year, coach Lessinger helped lead Team USA to its first title in seven years. However, it was not an easy task to build a competitive team in such a short amount of time.

“We had three practices with the girls, and we tried to put them into two equal teams to represent the U.S.,” Lessinger said. “By the time opening ceremonies took place, the other coaches and I arranged and rearranged the rosters until we agreed that there were two equal teams.”

Lessinger and her team toured Italy for three days before the tournament began, seeing sights and enjoying the country.

“Opening ceremonies were a big deal over there,” Lessinger said. “The city has fundraisers in order to host this tournament every year, and the entire city goes to this ceremony.”

Once opening ceremonies concluded, Lessinger and team USA began their run to the championship.

“The tournament was six days long, and we played one match a day,” Lessinger said. “It was weird because we played at either 6:30 or 9:30 at night, so waiting the whole day was something different for us.”

The team also had to get used to playing in an entirely different environment.

“We played all of our matches on outdoor courts,” Lessinger said. “It was really awesome, though, because the courts were in between two buildings, and there were grandstands on either side. The wind factor was eliminated, but it was just different for us to be competing outdoors.”

Lessinger faced challenges other than the courts – namely how to mesh her style with 17 different players and four different coaches.

“The experience for me, from a coaching standpoint, was really unique,” Lessinger said. “If a team connects quickly, and the coaches connect quickly, that really goes a long way into determining how much success they are going to have.”

According to Lessinger, she and the team connected well, and the players and coaches learned a lot from one another in the process.

“As a coach, an experience like this is a lot of fun,” Lessinger said. “We (coaches) spent a lot of time talking about philosophies and strategy. We were able to bond quickly. I was also impressed with the girls. They realized that for 10 days they had to play a certain way, and they all did a fantastic job doing that.”

For the most part, both U.S. teams breezed through the tournament. After not winning in seven years, the United States almost accomplished a rare feat.

“It looked like we were going to have an all-USA final because our two teams were on opposite sides of the bracket,” Lessinger said. “However, we ended up meeting the Czech Republic in the finals.”

In the finals, Lessinger’s Team USA won 3-0, including a second game where the score was 27-25, to win the annual Sibillini Tournament for the first time in seven years.

“The feeling was surreal,” Lessinger said. “To go into this tournament – not knowing what to expect – and leaving with the title was incredible. It helped me as a coach, and I think I will be able to use some of the new philosophies I learned in the upcoming season.”