• Cassie House

Finding Our Flow

LAX → Ghagan Zhau → Siem Reap → Battambang

Our first big trip as a team! It feels like this had been a long time coming for Lara and I! We’ve been very patient in our waiting, training and preparation for this big first step together.

We met at LAX before our midnight flight on 3/31 to take us to China and onto Cambodia. Taking a flight that late was a real struggle since my bedtime is usually about 9 pm. I was a little flustered after TSA lost my shoes (...what?!) but we made it to the gate.  The desk clerks at LAX seem to love me or just feel sorry for all the tall girls that have to take super long flights (ours was 14 hours!) because they always hook it up with an exit row seat with extra legroom!

14 hours later, China! Quick layover to stretch our legs a bit in the airport and hop on the next flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia.

We landed and were immediately hit with a wave of heat, packed with a sucker punch of humidity. ROUGH. Our next leg of travel was going to be pretty interesting because we had a general idea of where we needed to go, but no concrete idea of what it was going to look like. There is no direct flight into Battambang, so we had to find a bus from Siem Reap to Battambang (3.5 hours). It cost a whopping $6! That fits into an aspiring pro volleyballer’s budget (I love Cambodia). We took a tuk tuk to the city bus stop, found a local market to get some bottled water (50 cents, I love Cambodia), and checked the bus schedule but we had three more hours to wait. Lucky me, I had been texting my aunt the whole time and she pointed out that we were super close to Angkor Wat, a UNESCO Heritage site and one of the most important archaeological sites in SE Asia! So, we bargained with a tuk tuk driver to take us to the temple and show us around. It was just close enough that we could make a quick sweep through the monument and make it back to the bus in time. Let me tell you, it was INCREDIBLE! So much history packed into the walls! Carvings from thousands of years ago and architecture that is absolutely mind blowing to have been completed without modern technology. I learned later that the Portuguese, when they first found the temple, compared it to extravagant buildings of Greece and Rome, but said this temple was the most exquisite they had ever seen. I still am struggling finding the right words to describe how beautiful and majestic it was.

After our cultural enrichment, we headed for the bus and made it just in time to throw our bags in and we were rolling! The bus took us through some pretty remote parts of the Cambodian countryside. I knew that parts of Cambodia were considered to be similar to a third world country, but I was not prepared to actually see it first hand. Most of the homes we passed were sticks with metal tied to the sides to make walls or grass woven into the frame. Roofs were deformed or bearing huge, gaping holes in the rusting metal and some were nothing more than four logs to create a frame and a straw roof to resemble a hut. Hammocks were strewn throughout the homes, under trees, in the makeshift shacks, all as the beds for the residents. Talk about a humbling experience…

The 3.5 hour bus ride turned into 5.5 hours on the bumpiest road I have ever been on. Lara and I were able to get some delicious coconut and pineapple on the way though, so that was a major plus! We got to the hotel and learned that the whole city had suffered from a power outage. So there was no a/c, no electricity, no wifi… it was pitch black and HOT!

MacGyver Moment: I am so proud that we both are big backpackers and had brought head lamps because that was the only way we were able to take showers that night and find our way around the room. We both took a sleep aid to ensure we would sleep through the super hot night and prayed that the power would come back sooner rather than later. Right as we were both almost asleep, we heard cheering from outside our room and our a/c kicked on… God was definitely listening! We both passed out in the peaceful, cool darkness.

The next morning, we had breakfast, and went to the courts for practice. We got there just in time to snag a net and have a good practice with the other USA team, the Nourse twins. We came back to the room, ate snacks for lunch, did mobility in the pool, rolled out, stretched, showered and headed to the preliminary inquiry (player’s meeting/check in), came back to the hotel for dinner, and got ready for bed. There is so much down time during tournaments that you find yourself really not knowing what to do. Lara and I spent a ton of time talking and learning more and more about each other and, I have to say, she’s a pretty incredible human being.

The qualifier began on Thursday and, with a 12 team draw, we had to get past a Malaysian team to get into the Main Draw. We were able to take down Malaysia and secure a spot in the Main. Friday was the beginning of modified pool play and we had to get past a Cambodian team to ensure we’d make playoffs, then played a young, talented team from Latvia to win the pool. We won the first set, but were really forced on our heels by the Latvian girls in the second set. Lara and I dug deep, found our flow, and win in three, thus winning our pool and giving us a bye to the quarterfinals on Saturday afternoon.

Morning routines were usually the same unless we played in the morning. Saturday was the first day we were able to sleep from about 9:30 pm to 7 am so it is safe to say we had officially adjusted to the time change! Our morning routine was the same - get up, go to the hotel breakfast, (I order a vegetable omelet and eat fruit with Lara before we go back to the room and Lara makes oatmeal), head to the courts to either warm up and play, or scout and practice. Afternoons were spent scrolling, resting, napping, journaling, stretching, or talking and then back to the courts to warm up for our next match. At night, we had dinner after playing. Lara has a quinoa bowl in the room while I eat at the hotel restaurant. The local food was very good and incredibly fresh. Dinner was usually either a veggie noodle plate or chicken with vegetables and had been anywhere from $4-$6 each night… I love Cambodia. After becoming friends with the hotel staff and talking to them over breakfast and dinner, I learned that the hotel was a family run business. They grew a lot of their own herbs and veggies and all the mangoes they served came from the grandmother’s mango tree! Best mango I have ever had, hands down!

Here was a typical lunch and dinner from the hotel. Later, I dicovered they could make me grilled chicken and veggies. YUM!

Saturday night we played Germany to get into the semi finals! Germany was young but packed a lot of power and served incredibly well. We were able to handle them in two after falling behind in the second set and making a comeback. We broke the second game curse! We went back to the room and continued our nightly routine...because we aren't superstitious or anything…

We knew we would have Japan in the semi finals on Sunday morning (MY FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP SUNDAY!), so we did some research on them.

We were able to defeat Japan in two and make it to the FINALS! Lara and I tried to remain in control most of the game. The Japan girls were scrappy, but we had a game plan to take care of our side of the net and to stay on task. It’s really amazing to be able to start developing flow together and knowing where each other will be, knowing what sets we prefer in different situations, what we can say to each other to execute, and having really good communication. Japan had a lot of hustle, but I was able to steal a few blocks from them and Lara was able to dig and transition a few balls to give us a comfortable lead. The point spread allowed us to pull ahead and go one-for-one on sideout.

Playing in my first ever finals was surreal. Everyone in the sports world talks about the Flow State, the Zone, a place where things slow down and time stands still. I had never really understood how to consciously tap into this part of the game, but that was exactly what happened in the last game of the tournament. We were oddly calm, almost to a point we felt nervous, which we both admitted to each other after the game was over. It was the realization that we had a game plan, we knew our strengths, and all we had to do was play each point for what it was. There was no past point, no future point, only what we had to do for this point, this pass, this set, this serve. It was beautiful and felt so right, so fun… Looking back I am reminded that this is why I play. Mind you, the Greek girls came after us full on, no mercy. And it made competing, knowing we had to push back, one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had on the court. Standing on the podium after was just the cherry on top. I’m so proud of Lara.. of us.. seeing how the trust we’ve worked so hard to develop become tangible.  I’m excited for our future to blossom and grow!

I really have to give a shout out to the Anchor and FIVB crew who put on the tournament. The venue was so cool! And the tournament was run flawlessly, making the only job athletes had job was to focus on the game - We were so well-taken care of and given so much helpful communication.

This trip through Cambodia has humbled me. And there is no way to say it without putting the culture shock I went through into perspective. Driving past rural Cambodian villages, we were able to see what the average life there is like. Scooters carrying mountains of suitcases and parts of a bed, 7 people packed into a tiny car was just the beginning. There was a truck with 8 people in the cab (not a crew cab, mind you) and close to 15 sitting on top of bedding, produce, and boxes and bags in the bed. The corrugated metal shantytown-esque homes we passed on the side of the road was, honestly, beautiful. I realized the people here only need the basics and as long as they have a wooden platform or hammock to sleep above the ground on at night, they consider themselves lucky. The family car of choice here is clearly scooter as we’ve seen as many as four people squished onto the seat of a scooter.

After lots of heartfelt talks with Lara, my family, and being able to be immersed in such a diverse environment for a little over a week, I feel like I was able to get a grasp on a new level of thoughts;

Perception is everything.

Projection of perceptions make you ignorant.

Acceptance is key.

Love is the driving force that allows you to open up your eyes to the world around you.

Real, true authenticity; the good, the bad, the ugly, the desperation and passion we all feel, this is what makes us all so similar yet so unique and so beautiful in our own ways.

The human race is so incredibly cool because of how vastly different we all are.

Who are we to say that these people live in poverty? We are simply projecting our perception onto their lives.

They are rich and thriving in their own ways, based on perceptions and needs that are unique to each individual.

Their perception of their reality is very much the same as our own perceptions of our realities at home.

I may not have all the money in the world and struggle to pay the bills sometimes, but I am so rich in love and opportunities that fill me with soul daily.

So, there’s my emotional experience of Cambodia.

The last part of the first leg of the trip was our day in Siem Reap. We started it with the heart filling, incredible drive through the countryside to get closer to the airport in Siem Reap so that we would have an easy commute for our early flight.

We arrived at a wonderful hotel and headed to the room to do a classy load of hotel bathtub laundry. Nothing is as fabulous as doing a spin and rinse cycle by hand and laying your clothes all over the hotel room to dry. We spent the rest of the day touring around the city of Siem Reap. Lara found the cutest cafe where we were able to get some fresh vegetables and have a really peaceful meal. I’d like to happily note that it has been a week of being attached to each other’s hips and I can still genuinely say we become closer and closer each day.

The rest of the afternoon was spent talking about soulful things and roaming around the city, through the markets, finding little trinkets, taking photos, and exploring alleyways to even more beautiful spots. Siem Reap is truly a hidden gem with many different walks of life, all while being super budget friendly for even us travelers on a minimal budget. It is also stupid hot and humid and you have to fully embrace the sticky back and neck sweat that you will feel building up even from just standing in place. Good thing neither of us are bashful about being sweaty and gross.

We returned back to the hotel, got a workout in and headed for bed only after checking our next leg of travel booking and realizing we booked a hotel super far from the courts. Shout out to Lara for being the one to catch it! 20 minutes of panic, a hotel cancellation and rebooking and we were ready to start the next adventure in the morning!

Our next tour stop is on Langkawi Island off the coast of Malaysia and we actually get to play on a beach this time! I can’t put into words how much it means to me that so soooo many people have reached out to share their love and support while following along on this journey. Sometimes it’s easy to feel alone and isolated when you know that you’re going after a goal that many others are also chasing and you play a sport that doesn’t get a lot of publicity. I have never ever felt more love or truly realized how many people are in my corner, Lara and I’s corner, cheering for us and loving on us hard. If you’ve been following along, thank you… from the bottom of my heart.

I have also received a handful of people that read my previous blog about the sacrifices it takes to be set out to accomplish these goals without getting a lot of outside help. Thank you so, so, so much to those who have contributed to helping me chase these dreams and set out to conquer these goals. You are the reason I am able to be across the world from my home, competing. If you’ve just recently started following my journey, feel free to casually stalk my previous blog post where I explain my goals, dreams and mission for this big international trip, and hopes for the rest of season. If you feel so inclined to assist in my ventures while chasing the big, big dream, there’s a section in my website under the Sponsors tab that is a link to a Donate PayPal pool. Anything helps and is more appreciated than I can put into words.

Again, I can feel the love being sent from all over, and am absorbing every ounce of it! I am beyond excited to get back on the court this week for competition round 2, making another run with Lara and tapping into some of the momentum we’re starting to build.

Thank you so much for reading! All my love…

PS. If you have anything you want to know more about while we’re on the road, feel free to leave a comment! This blogging thing is new to me, and sharing only helps enrich my experiences here.

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