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24 апр. 2011 г.

Nicole and her Cosa Nostra

For Nicole Davis this is her second season in Azerbaijan and already it is impossible to imagine the Superleague without her. A true fighter with an incredible spirit (she will chase a ball into the stands if she has to!) she is also a very emotional player that wears her heart on her sleeve.

This is your second season in Azerbaijan already. How would you compare this season to last?

This is my second season in Azerbaijan, and I would say the quality of the league has improved exponentially from last year.

What were your expectations before you first came here? Did your experience in Baku live up to your expectations?

Before I first came to Baku, I didn't know what to expect - from the city, the people, and the level of volleyball. When I was younger, I dreamed about playing in the Italian league, because it has been one of the, if not the best league in the world for many years. Of course, Italy is a wonderful country also. Now, I am here in Baku, for my second season, and I am finding it difficult to leave. Everything is growing in front of me. I returned this year to find a new city, basically. The square is so beautiful, and so many new buildings are being constructed. There are a lot of redeeming qualities to Baku. Also, my club is wonderful. Our sponsor is so great to us, and is so great to work for. Now, I feel like I have a family here in Baku. And, the quality of the teams is higher, and I expect it to be higher again next year. The Federation is taking the right steps to having a well-respected and high-level league in the years to come.

USA has the largest representation in the Superleague, with 10 players. Does it help to have other Americans around? Do you spend a lot of time together?

There are a lot of Americans in the league this year, yes. It's nice to see a familiar face when I am walking around the city or out to dinner. I am lucky, because I am a good friend with a few of the girls, so we do spend a lot of time together. It's also nice having someone on the team from the same country as you, that can help push you to become a better player, and to keep you accountable for doing things the right way, and working hard. But, I am also the type of person that doesn't need another American around me when I am overseas. This is the first year I have ever played with another American. I really enjoy the experience of being in different countries, and making friends with new people, and learning about their cultures.

There were talks of the professional volleyball league in the U.S., but it has never materialized. What do you think is the problem and will the American Pro-League ever happen?

I am not sure if a professional volleyball league will ever materialize in the US. It's difficult to find a niche for a volleyball league, because the American football league, the NBA, and Major League Baseball dominate our culture. There are nearly 1.5 million kids in America that play volleyball. However, the game is seen as more of a "family" sport, and it's more difficult to market a "family" sport, and make money from it. The other leagues generate a lot of money, and so it is easy to keep them going. So far, even the professional beach volleyball league (AVP) has not been unable to sustain its marketability.

Lokomotiv has had an amazing run in the Challenge Cup and a very tough bracket. You started off against a tough Russia side (the game went into the "golden set"), then you met Igtisadchi in the semis (another "golden set" there). What were your overall impressions of the tournament?

Our team had a nice run in the Challenge Cup. We knew that if we could win the matches against Omsk that there would be a good chance to make the finals. I think the matches with the German team were a turning point for us. We really evolved into a good team at that time, and took some good momentum going into the matches with Igtisadchi. I think our experience in the golden set with Omsk helped us through the golden set with Igtisadchi. Azerrail simply played better than us in the final. But, overall, I think it was a good tournament.

Over the years you played in Poland, Turkey and China. How would you compare these leagues?

The Polish league when I played there (2004-05) was strong. Especially for me, it was my first season overseas, and the level of international volleyball is much higher than I was prepared for. Now, the polish league has better sponsors, and more foreign players, and I think it is one of the better leagues in Europe. It is classic, European volleyball. Heavy serves, mix of tall and strong attackers with good range, good ball control and consistent level of play. The Turkish league was good when I was there also. But now, as you have seen, with 3 teams in the final 6 of Champions League, and two in the Final Four, it has proved itself to be very good. I think some of the best players in the world are now playing in Turkey. There are also very good coaches in Turkey now. This also makes a difference. The Chinese league is also a very good quality league. It is now bringing in more foreign players to play, and I would say, is the strongest league in Asia. My team last year would do very well in Champions League this year. I played with several Olympians, gold and silver medalists. All of the teams had very good quality players and we competed at a very high level.

What is the biggest challenge of playing overseas?

The biggest challenge in playing overseas for us is being away from home (and our families) for so long. It's a lot easier to fly home from Azerbaijan if you are from Turkey, than America! We miss a lot of things, for example, our nieces and nephews growing up, and friend’s birthday parties, and time with family. The other challenge in playing overseas, especially for teams like ours, that have so many foreign players - that come from different styles of play, systems, team cultures - is to create a strong team dynamic. We all have to make adjustments and figure out how to play under one system, but it's difficult, because we all think about the game in different terms and the way we analyze it and execute plays is different. It's always a challenge.

What was the strangest/funniest/weirdest thing you have encountered in Azerbaijan?

The funniest thing I have ever encountered in Azerbaijan was a crazy leprechaun man in downtown! Kristin [Lokomotiv teammate Kristin Richards - Azerivolley.com] and I were walking to Namli Kebap (one of our favorite restaurants here), on a rainy day, and small man, followed us through the square, talking very fast and making weird gestures. We finally arrived at the restaurant, and when we walked in and sat down, we looked outside. The man was upside down on his head, in a puddle of water, break-dancing! All of the waiters in the restaurant were laughing!

What are, in your opinion, the biggest differences between American volleyball (college) and European?

There are several differences between American college volleyball and European volleyball. One major difference is that in college volleyball, the main focus is to study at the University, not playing volleyball. In Europe, when you play professional volleyball, it is your whole life and focus. So, the mentality is quite different. Not to mention, in Europe, the girls start playing at a high level at an early age, so they have so much more experience and repetitions. European volleyball is much more dynamic, and physical than American college volleyball.

You have been a member of the U.S. national team for almost six years now. What does it take to be on Team USA?

To be on Team USA, it takes a lot of patience and determination. It's never easy, but it's such an honor to represent our country, and be a part of something so special. We are constantly learning, and pushing ourselves further each day. It's a long process, and everyday matters, because we have so much talent in our gym, and your future is never secure. Everyone plays their best match against the USA team, so it's very rewarding to compete against the best, all of the time.

If you were to pick the Azerbaijani Superleague All-Star team, who would you choose?

If I were to pick an Azerbaijani Super league All-Star team I would chose the American mafia versus all! (laughing)

What is your fondest volleyball memory?

My fondest volleyball memory would be the first day we entered the match gym at the Olympics in Beijing, walking through the corridors, from the warm-up gym to the match hall, with so many nerves, and we entered and I saw so many Americans cheering for us! The crowd was so loud, and it was after a tragic event within the USA volleyball family, and it was a moment that will last a lifetime. I have a lot of fond memories though. Obviously, playing in the gold medal match at the Olympics was one of them. Beating Italy for the first time in 6 years to go on to play in the medal round was HUGE! Beating Brazil at World Cup in 2007 for the first time in many years, and then going on to qualify! We had an epic match against Poland at World Cup in 2007, also, that was very memorable. Beating China in China, at the Olympics, in 5 sets, was also a once in a lifetime experience. Winning the World Grand Prix in 2010 was also very cool!

I know that you have a black belt in karate. Have you ever had to use your martial arts skills?

I have never had to use my martial arts skills outside of controlled competition. But, I definitely feel safer walking around and traveling around the world on my own.

You were a political science major in college. Do you see yourself going into politics, say, 5 or 10 years from now?

I don't see myself going into politics after volleyball. I majored in political science, but my focus was actually international politics, with a law emphasis. I am not sure what I will move on to after I retire from sport. I have thought about law school, but I am not sure. I will see what new opportunities there are for me when I finish playing, and go from there. I want to be able to do something I can be passionate about, and that will be fulfilling to me.

From Azerivolley.com: Happy Birthday, Nicole and many happy returns!

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