Maddy Baier: The Long Road Back

Madison Baier vs. South Dakota

Madison Baier vs. South Dakota

December 8th – A date that never escapes Maddy Baier’s mind, and a date she probably will never forget.

It was Dec. 8, 2013, and Cal State-Fullerton was in town when Baier checked in for senior Hallie Christofferson.

“I’ll never forget, I beat my girl down the court and I was going right down the left side of the lane and Nikki [Moody] saw me and passed me the ball,” Baier said. “I just jump stopped and right when I stopped to jump I felt my knee buckle and I just threw the ball up. I remember leaning against the post watching everybody run down.”

At first she thought she tore her LCL, which would have left her out a few weeks. The next day she got the news she didn’t expect.

“I remember watching Dr. (Tom) Greenwald read the MRI and seeing his face. I knew what he was going to tell me by the look on his face and I just busted into tears,” Baier said.

The news was a torn ACL in her right knee, one that would require surgery and she would have to sit out for six months, ending her sophomore season.

After the initial shock, the always positive Baier knew it was time to face this head on.

Dec. 18, 2013. That’s the other date she won’t soon forget – the day of her surgery.

For Baier, it wasn’t surgery that was difficult; it was the long road to recovery, a road that really only started on Dec. 18.

“After I had my surgery it was hard to do the smallest thing,” Baier said. “I would think ‘I’m never going to get back. This is going to take forever,’ but I would say the rehab right after surgery was easily the hardest.”

With little muscle mass left in her leg, rehab was long and arduous. As with most season-ending injuries, it isn’t always the physical hurdles, but the emotional hurdles that are difficult during recovery.

Having to sit on the sideline while the team continued to play was one of the most difficult parts of rehab for Baier.

“Hallie was playing 40 minutes and I know she was tired,” Baier said. “That’s my job— to give her a break—and I know she was tired. We were short on post as it is. I would just think ‘That’s my job, to give her that break so she can come back in and be fresh.”

“I think the hardest thing was sitting out and thinking ‘If I had never done this I could have helped.’”

But Baier’s strong support system didn’t allow her to think like that for long. She was surrounded by encouragers, everyone from her teammates and coaches to the training staff and her family.

She noted teammate and roommate Kidd Blaskowsky was one of her biggest cheerleaders and always there to offer words of encouragement.

Over the last six months, Baier dutifully continued her rehabilitation, remaining positive and looking forward for the day she can rejoin her teammates on the floor.

During her road to recovery, it wasn’t just the big things – like playing basketball – that she relished, but even little things like getting her ankles taped and warming up on the court with the team. She knew it was going to be a good day when she could step back out onto the court again.

That day finally came last week.

A big smile erupted across Baier’s face as she talked about what it was like to work out with the team. Though she isn’t completely finished with her recovery, the finish line is just around the corner and you better be sure she is going to cross it.

Posted in Uncategorized, Women's Basketball | Tagged | 1 Comment

The 2014-15 Non-Conference Schedule

The 2014-15 men’s basketball non-conference schedule has been set. Below are short capsules of the teams the Cyclones will be facing in Fred Hoiberg’s fifth season as head coach. Times and TV information will be announced at a later date, as will the Big 12 schedule.

Friday, Nov. 7 – Exhibition – Viterbo (Wis.) (16-14)
The Cyclones and V-Hawks will meet for the first time as ISU gets primed for its season opener a week later. Viterbo, which plays at the NAIA level, went 16-14 last season and returns two of three scorers that averaged double figures on last season’s team. This won’t be Viterbo’s only trip to Iowa this season. The V-Hawks are members of the Midwest Collegiate Conference, which includes the likes of AIB, Mount Mercy, William Penn and Grand View.

All-Time Series: First Meeting
Viterbo on Twitter: @viterboathletic

Friday, Nov. 14 – Oakland (13-20, 7-9 Horizon League)
Gone is all-time NCAA 3-point record holder Travis Bader, who made an astonishing 504 threes in his career, but under Greg Kampe the Grizzlies have never shied away from playing bigger schools. Last season, Oakland played at North Carolina, at UCLA, at Cal and at Gonzaga to open the season. They also matched up with Indiana and Michigan State. So Kampe, who will be in his 30th season at the school, doesn’t back down in preparing his team for conference play. Oakland returns 6-10 center Corey Petros, who shot 57.6 percent from the field and averaged 13.3 points. The game is part of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic.

All-Time Series: First Meeting
Oakland on Twitter: @OUGrizzlies

Monday, Nov. 17 – Georgia State (25-9, 17-1 Sun Belt)
The Panthers cruised through the Sun Belt Conference last season before losing by a point in overtime in the conference tournament championship game to UL-Lafayette. Georgia State returns its top two scorers, including junior R.J. Hunter, the coach’s son who averaged 18.4 points and shot 88.4 percent at the line. Hunter will participate in the Nike Skills Kevin Durant Camp later this summer with Cyclone Bryce Dejean-Jones. Kentucky transfer Ryan Harrow averaged 17.9 points last season and fills out the Panthers’ backcourt. Georgia State also received a boost when Louisville transfer Kevin Ware was declared immediately eligible by the NCAA. Don’t sleep on this Georgia State team, a major NCAA Tournament team contender. This game is also part of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic.

All-Time Series: First Meeting
Georgia State on Twitter: @GSUPanthers

Nov. 24-25 – CBE Hall of Fame Classic – Kansas City, Mo.
Cyclone fans will again have a chance to visit our home away from home, the Sprint Center. Hilton South as some know it. The competition will be good as ISU will play two games against a combination of Maryland (17-15, 9-9 ACC), Alabama (13-19, 7-11 SEC) and Arizona State (20-8, 9-6 Pac-12). The schedule for the tournament will be announced later this summer.

All-Time Series: Alabama (Alabama leads 1-0), Arizona State (ISU leads 2-1), Maryland (Never met)
On Twitter: Alabama (@AlabamaHoops), Arizona State (@SunDevilHoops), Maryland (@TerrapinHoops).

Tuesday, Dec. 2 – Lamar (4-26, 3-15 Southland)
The Cardinals struggled last season to a 4-26 mark but will have a new coach in Tic Price, who served as interim head coach after the dismissal of Pat Knight late last season. Lamar returns five of its top six scorers, including guard Nimrod Hilliard (14.1 ppg).

All-Time Series: First Meeting
Lamar On Twitter: @LamarCards

Thursday, Dec. 4 – Arkansas (22-12, 10-8 SEC) – SEC/Big 12 Challenge
The second edition of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge will again see the Cyclones at home, meaning the next two years will be away from home. ISU beat Auburn last year in the challenge, while Arkansas didn’t participate. The Razorbacks played in the NIT after missing the NCAA Tournament in head coach Mike Anderson’s third season at the helm. Arkansas returns three starters, including leading scorer Rashad Madden (12.7 ppg). Post Bobby Portis averaged 12.3 points and 6.8 rebounds as a sophomore. Portis is attending the Nike Elite Big Man Skills Academy along with Cyclone Georges Niang.

All-Time Series: Iowa State leads, 3-1
Arkansas on Twitter: @RazorbackMBB

Tuesday, Dec. 9 – UMKC (10-20, 7-9 WAC)
The Cyclones will meet UMKC for the third time in as many years, with ISU winning last season’s game 110-51 in what proved to be the highest-scoring output of the 2013-14 campaign for Fred Hoiberg’s team. Guard Martez Harrison averaged 17.2 points as a freshman to lead the Kangaroos in scoring. UMKC is coached by former Louisville assistant Kareem Richardson.

All-Time Series: Iowa State leads, 3-0
UMKC on Twitter: @UMKCMensHoops

Friday, Dec. 12 – at Iowa (20-13, 9-9 Big Ten)
In what is always the most anticipated game of the non-conference season, Iowa State will travel to Iowa for the annual Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series matchup. The Cyclones and Hawkeyes battled in a thrilling contest last season that saw ISU win 85-82 at Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones are 1-1 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena under the guidance of Fred Hoiberg. The Hawkeyes won 80-71 in 2011, while the Cyclones were victorious in Hoiberg’s initial trip to Iowa State, winning 75-72. Scott Christopherson had 30 points in that win. Iowa returns much of its lineup, but will have to replace leading scorer Roy Devyn Marble (17.0 ppg).

All-Time Series: Iowa leads, 43-24
Iowa on Twitter: @IowaHoops

Sunday, Dec. 14 – Southern (19-13, 15-3 SWAC)
The appearance of Southern University at Hilton Coliseum will also mark the return of a familiar face. Calvin Godfrey, who averaged 5.7 points and 5.4 rebounds for Fred Hoiberg’s 2010-11 team before being dismissed from the team, will return as the Jaguars’ leading scorer after averaging 13.1 points and 8.8 rebounds last season. Godfrey made 55.6 percent of his shots.

All-Time Series: Iowa State leads, 2-0
Southern on Twitter: @SouthernUSports

Saturday, Dec. 20 – Drake (15-16, 6-12 Missouri Valley)
The Cyclones and Bulldogs meet for the 173rd time in the third year of the Hy-Vee Big Four Classic. Iowa State won the last meeting in 2012. The Bulldogs return a pair of double-figure scorers in Gary Ricks, Jr. (12.3 ppg) and Jordan Daniels (10.2) in Ray Giacoletti’s second season at the school.

All-Time Series: Iowa State leads, 107-65
Drake on Twitter: @DrakeBulldogsMB

Wednesday, Dec. 31 – Mississippi Valley State (9-23, 4-12 SWAC)
The Cyclones will play on New Year’s Eve for the second year in a row when they host Mississippi Valley State this season. The Delta Devils return their top-five scorers, including Anthony McDonald (11.9 ppg). MVSU is a fairly frequent visitor to Hilton Coliseum as this will mark their fourth trip to Ames in seven years.

All-Time Series: Iowa State leads, 4-0
Mississippi Valley State on Twitter: @MVSUDevilsports

Saturday, Jan. 3 – vs. South Carolina (14-20, 5-13 SEC) – Brooklyn, N.Y.
Iowa State could be facing its third SEC opponent of the season when it faces South Carolina in the first game of 2015 at the Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets. Dustin Hogue gets to play what is essentially another home game. Remember the last time he played in New York? If you don’t remember, well, he was awesome. 34 points on 15-of-19 shooting at the Garden. The Gamecocks struggled last season under Frank Martin, a familiar face who spent five years as head coach at Kansas State and is in his third season with the Gamecocks. USC should be improved this season, however.

All-Time Series: First Meeting
South Carolina on Twitter: @GamecockMBB

Posted in Men's Basketball | Tagged | 3 Comments

Catching Up With Stevie Johnson

Stevie Camp

Stevie Johnson had been struggling at the free-throw line and didn’t want to let his team down. It was a pivotal moment in one of the biggest games of the season. Iowa State was down four points to No. 13 Oklahoma State with just over three minutes left in the 2000 Big 12 Conference Tournament semifinal.

“I had been missing free throws early on,” Johnson remembered. “I said to myself, ‘Oh man, they’re going to be fouling me because I’ve been missing free throws.’ And I was able to hit my free throws.”

He did more than that. Johnson went to work, scoring seven-straight points, including a pair of conventional three-point plays in a two-minute span to put the Cyclones over the hump in a crucial 68-64 victory.

“I knew I wasn’t a great free throw shooter, but I made sure I made the ‘and-1s’ in that game,” Johnson said. “It was the best feeling ever. I remember Mike (Nurse) jumping on my back. It was great.”

It was one of many great days as a Cyclone for Johnson, who was back in town this week helping out at Fred Hoiberg’s Basketball Camp.

Stevie Camp2

The 36-year-old Johnson will always be remembered by Cyclone fans for a lot of reasons. The Beaumont, Miss., native was the tenacious defender and rebounder on arguably the greatest basketball team in school history, the 1999-2000 squad which captured both the Big 12 regular season and tournament titles and went onto the Elite Eight.

When his basketball eligibility was up after that magical hoops season, he wasn’t finished making history. Johnson hadn’t played organized football since his freshman year of high school, but he thought he would give football a try in his final season in Ames.

Well, the rest is Cyclone history. Johnson made the team, and was a significant contributor at linebacker on arguably one of the greatest football teams in school history, the 2000 squad which won a school-record nine games and captured the school’s first bowl victory (Insight.com Bowl).

That’s quite a legacy left by Johnson. He certainly is still proud of being a part of both iconic teams in Cyclone history.

“It means a lot because you think about the tradition of this school,” Johnson said. “You think about the people who came before me – Jeff Hornacek, Hoiberg, Troy Davis – all those people, and all those good teams that we had. I got the chance to play with (Marcus) Fizer and (Jamaal) Tinsley in basketball and (James) Reed and (Reggie) Hayward in football. Those years I spent here at Iowa State were the best years of my life.”

“I was a part of something great here at Iowa State, and it was just a blessing,” Johnson added. “I could’ve went to a lot of schools, but I don’t regret coming to Iowa State.”

Johnson is still playing basketball professionally, and if you saw him today, he could pass for a player in his mid-20s. He’s traveled the world playing the game he so cherishes. His first stop was in Iceland, leading the league in scoring and earning MVP honors. He spent the next eight years in Spain, followed by a stint in Argentina and his current team in Germany.

Despite all of his jet-setting, Johnson will always have a soft spot for Ames, Iowa.

“When I’m overseas, the games come on really late, so it might be 3 a.m. when the games are on,” Johnson said. “So coming back here, it just feels great. Now people are talking about Iowa State everywhere. It’s changed so much and that makes me feel good, because from where we started when I was here, to the notoriety we get now, you can see Iowa State jerseys in other places besides Iowa. That means a lot because I’m always bragging on my university everywhere I go.”

Johnson was a highly-touted recruit when he arrived in Ames prior to the 1996-97 season. Tim Floyd brought him to Iowa State, but it was under the guidance of Larry Eustachy where the power forward thrived.

Johnson was, and still is, an incredible athlete. He possessed extreme jumping ability and superior speed packed into his chiseled 6-4, 225-pound frame. He tested out with a 38-inch vertical leap and had an uncanny ability to time his jumps perfectly.

When Eustachy needed a guy to clean up around the hoop in the middle of his senior season (1999-2000), Johnson found his niche.

“I got a chance to play for Coach Floyd and Coach Eustachy, two of the greatest basketball men you’ll play for,” Johnson said. “Two really tough guys, but they made me a man. I came here, I didn’t know a lot about basketball. I was a really good athlete, but they taught me a lot of life lessons. I got a chance to grow up. When we started the conference season (1999-2000), Paul Shirley had gotten hurt and then Martin Rancik got hurt. So, I got the chance to start and things kind of went from there.”

The Cyclones were rolling and Johnson was a big part of it. He shot an incredible 66.3 percent from the field in his final year with the Cyclones, the best single-season clip recorded by a Cyclone with at least 100 made field goals (128-193 FG).

Playing alongside his teammates, including All-Americans Fizer and Tinsley, on a team which set the school record for wins (32) is something he will never forget.

“The biggest thing was, when we were in late game situations, we always felt like we were going to pull it out,” Johnson said. “If we were down five points with a minute left, we knew somebody was going to make a play. We knew Fizer would make a basket, or Jamaal is going to get one in. Then you would have Nurse or (Kantrail) Horton making big threes. It was always somebody who stepped up at the right time. And defensively, I think we were the best defensive team in the league. We had to be. We played really hard. Everybody knew their role. The cohesiveness was better than any team I’ve ever played with.”

Stevie Johnson shot 66.3 percent from the field as a senior in 1999-2000.

Stevie Johnson shot 66.3 percent from the field as a senior in 1999-2000.

After the record-setting 1999-2000 season ended, Johnson had a unique decision to contemplate. He always loved football and certainly had the build to succeed. His father, Cleo, was a fourth round pick of the Denver Broncos in the 1971 NFL Draft.

The Cyclones were on the verge of something great in Dan McCarney’s sixth season (2000) at Iowa State and Johnson was interested in joining the team for his fifth-year of eligibility.

The Iowa State coaching staff, including current head coach Paul Rhoads, who was an assistant on McCarney’s staff then, had talked to Johnson numerous times about the possibility of joining the team.

“The coaches had always talked to me about playing football. Growing up, football was probably my best sport, but I didn’t play it when I got older because my dad played two years of professional ball and he got hurt so he encouraged us not to play,” Johnson said. “I started excelling at basketball, so I left football and baseball alone. I needed a couple more classes to graduate and Coach (Tony) Alford, who was the running backs coach, had been talking to me a little bit about it. He told me, ‘You can do it, you know?’ I didn’t even know about the fifth-year rule where I could play another sport. I thought about it and said, ‘Yeah, I want to give it a try.’”

Depth at any position is needed for football, especially when you have the talent of Johnson. Johnson jumped into spring drills immediately after basketball season ended. He made an auspicious debut, leading the team in tackles in the 2000 Spring Game.

Johnson enjoyed the transition to football.

“As far as the physical part, I could pretty much adjust,” Johnson said. “But it was night and day. I hadn’t played football since I was a freshman in high school. To come to the Big 12, you are playing the big boys. Everything was so fast for me. About midway through the season I started to pick up on things, and it got a lot easier for me. I look at it now, to be able to contribute to that team, it means the world to me. I still chat with a lot of those guys. They opened their arms to me. They could have shunned me out coming from basketball. They allowed me to come into their locker room and be a part of their team and that meant a lot to me.”

Johnson played in 10 games at linebacker in 2000, racking up 17 tackles. He had a career-high six tackles vs. Colorado.

The season was capped off by a 37-29 victory over Pittsburgh in the Insight.com Bowl, a game where Johnson saw action.

Stevie Johnson played in 10 games at linebacker on ISU's 2000 Insight.com Bowl squad.

Stevie Johnson played in 10 games at linebacker on ISU’s 2000 Insight.com Bowl squad.

As a key member of ISU’s greatest men’s basketball and football teams, I guess you could say Johnson’s legacy at Iowa State is firmly cemented.

“I don’t think much of it right now because I’m still playing,” Johnson said. “When I’m done I probably will. I was a part of an Elite Eight team and a Sweet 16 team in basketball, and then ISU’s first bowl win. And the people in Ames, they always treated me great. It was the best five years of my life.”

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Volleyball European Tour Day Ten – Discover Yourself

Radio Italia Live in the Milan city center Sunday afternoon.

Radio Italia Live in the Milan city center Sunday afternoon.

It hasn’t really hit me yet, and I don’t know if it has hit anyone else just yet, but it is over. Tomorrow morning we will get on a bus early in the morning, which has been the story for about half of our trip, but tomorrow’s early journey will be taking us to an airport as we begin our all-day journey back home, a place we last saw on May 22. The tour has been an incredible journey, and though there have been plenty of times where things have not gone exactly as planned, many of us wouldn’t have it any other way.

Today was a total free day for the Cyclones in the city center; we would go into town together and then be cut loose for seven hours. I did not join in on the team’s trip into town, as I got an earlier start so I could go to a Sunday church service. I ended up at San Marco (I was even able to find it), just north of the city center, for an Italian-spoken service. Fortunately my few days of being surrounded by Italian did not doom me too much. It was a great chance to find another beautiful church to visit in Milan without the chaos of tourism that I would inevitably run into later.

I then joined up with the team at Sforza Castle, one of Europe’s largest castles when it was built in the 15th century. This was the kind of castle that matches our “romantic” perspective of what castles are. It was surrounded by a moat (not filled with water for obvious reasons, but it had a lot of cats in them which was … odd), it has a massive courtyard inside, it had various fortresses for protection of specific areas and it had imposing towers that everyone associates with castles.

The entrance to Sforza Castle, as long as you can get past the moat (you can).

The entrance to Sforza Castle, as long as you can get past the moat (you can).

After we broke up, I immediately journeyed for the biggest attraction in Milan, the Duomo di Milano. An absolutely massive cathedral, the project to build the Duomo di Milano was originally commissioned in the 14th century, but not formally finished until 1965. I was just expecting to walk in, see a church crowded with tourists like I did in Prague and Vienna and be on my way, I was in for something much different.

The Milan Cathedral dominates the city center, even with rock concerts going on.

The Milan Cathedral dominates the city center, even with rock concerts going on.

When I entered a service was just starting, which was really odd to walk into a church that was surrounded by tourists on the outside parts and had a religious service on the inside. Anyway, I was walking around the outside like the other tourists and I looked up to the front and I could not believe what I saw. The service was being given by none other than Cardinal Angelo Scola, one of the most influential men in the Catholic Church. In the last two elections for the new Pope of the Catholic Church, Scola has been among the finalists. I went from tourist to churchgoer and took a seat for the experience. This was an old-fashioned service: spoken entirely in Latin, upwards of 10 ordained ministers taking part, pipe organ, all-male choir, etc. I knew some Latin from my studies during my time at Dowling Catholic High School so I was able to follow along a little, but the experience of being there was the almost surreal.

From there, it was just exploring what Milan had to offer. As most people know, I am not much of a shopper, so I was not giving back to the city center economy much. However, the people watching of was my involvement. The most notable shopping experience of Milan is the “Golden Triangle”. Inside this three-block area are the biggest brands of Italy and the world at their most expensive: Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Giorgio Armani, etc. If you judge your books by the cover, this is what you want them dressed in. I stayed away, but people’s curiosity is as interesting to me as the latest in fashion (I had a professor at TCU who once described my fashion sense as “predictable”. She was doing it to make a point, but there are worse things that can be said about a person).

Gucci, Armani, Louis Vuitton. Be ready to spend.

Gucci, Armani, Louis Vuitton. Be ready to spend.

Once we reassembled as a team, we enjoyed our “Last Supper” (a bad reference to da Vinci’s world famous painting located in Milan that you have to buy tickets to see up to five months(!) in advance) at Fresco and Cimmino. We then went for gelato as a team at Riva Reno before returning to our hotel.

Because this is our final blog, we want to put out some thank you notes to people during the trip who have been very important to our journey. The first, and most important, one goes to our tour guide who was with us every step of the way, Heni. She was extremely busy, balancing her responsibilities with the Hungarian National Teams (both men’s and women’s) and helping manage our trip all while being away from her two children. Heni got along with our players greatly and always worked to keep their best interests. It is going to be weird waking up tomorrow and not having Heni there to show us around and what we have to do.

Thanks to Tim, who has been with us off and no during our journeys through Italy. Tim has played an important role in planning and managing many teams’ trips who are currently in Europe, including Cal, Oklahoma and Ole Miss. He has had a great handle on the Italy leg of our trip, which was the one area Heni was not as familiar with coming into it and he also helped arrange our one match in Italy after some last-minute changes. On that note, thanks to Christina, who was with us for that match in Tim’s place and was incredibly supportive.

Back in Slovenia, thanks to Cory for showing us all the wonderful things Maribor has to offer. It would be a challenge for any other first-timer in Maribor to arrange all the cool things we got to do and we were very fortunate to have Cory on our side. He helped us get the very most out of a place that did not excite many on paper.

Heading all the way back to Prague and the Czech Republic, thanks to Jirka. His knowledge of Prague was amazing and he knew all there was to know. He played an important role in helping arrange and manage our matches there, and he made sure we saw all the sites that Prague had to offer.

Thanks to all of our bus drivers who have had to navigate the tight European streets and highways to get us where we needed to be. Special shout out to the one driver who got Jon Newman-Gonchar his neck pillow back, he would have never lived it down (and he probably still won’t). Thanks to all the teams who came to play us, some on very late notice, we hope you enjoy your Iowa State volleyball shirts! Thanks to all the restaurants who dealt with us Americans in a very polite and respectful manner, especially when there was a communication barrier.

There are probably many, many more we have forgotten to thank, but we are all indebted to those who have helped make this trip a success.

We head back home tomorrow. If all goes as planned (/knocks on all the wood of the planet), we will be back in Ames before midnight tomorrow, or just after. From there, the team will have some time off before June 16, when the June semester of summer school kicks off.

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Volleyball European Tour Day Nine – Meeting Milan

A more residential perspective of Milan.

A more residential perspective of Milan.

The first half of Saturday in Milan was sort of a rest day for the Cyclones. This was different from previous “rest days” because we were not waking up early to get on a bus to go somewhere or not playing on the day, so we would not be “working” (that trail in Cinque Terre yesterday involved zero volleyball, but was more than enough work). With how our match schedule for the day laid out, it was decided to let the players rest up if they wanted to, so we had no team-related event until noon.

Our hotel, Hotel Accademia, is in a more residential part of Milan, especially in comparison with where we stayed in Prague. There are businesses all around, but there are many apartment and condo-type buildings in the area that give it a slower pace than being in the city center. There was a mall nearby that gave the players a convenient by close option.

Because I am not the one who had to play in a match today, I decided to start my morning with a two mile walk to the San Siro, the home of Italian soccer giants AC Milan and Inter Milan. The walk allowed me to experience some more of the residential and quieter areas of Milan, which was nice for a Saturday morning. Before arriving at the soccer stadium, you walk past the Hippodrome de San Siro, a horse racing track that is among the largest in Italy. There is one reason to stop by there when there is no racing going on, Leonardo’s Horse.

Leonardo's Horse, surprisingly well-hidden for a 25-foot tall bronze horse.

Leonardo’s Horse, surprisingly well-hidden for a 25-foot tall bronze horse.

That there is a 25-foot tall bronze horse. The Leonardo referenced in the horse’s name is none other than Leonardo da Vinci. The Italian was commissioned by the Duke of Milan to create a statue in honor of his father, a fan of equestrian. However, da Vinci was involved with many other projects and he eventually created a clay, full-scale model of the horse in preparation to bronze it via one of his revolutionary theories. However, as part of the French invasion of Milan during Louis XII’s War in 1499, the clay model was destroyed.

The project eventually regained footing when the plans for the horse were found in the 19th century. In the 1980s, an American named Charles C. Dent started an organization to help raise money to create the bronzed horse not only in honor of da Vinci, but as a symbol of the relations between the United States and Italy. The project was eventually completed in 1999 and the horse was brought to the Hippodrome de San Siro.

Back to my ultimate goal of visiting the San Siro soccer stadium, it didn’t happen. Unfortunately there was a concert that night at the stadium and the stadium was locked up with multiple police surrounding the stadium. The only positive was that I was not bumped out by One Direction, which will happen to some wayward American tourist next month when they are there (I don’t memorize their schedule, I saw a flyer).

The San Siro, home of Italian soccer clubs AC Milan and Inter Milan.

The San Siro, home of Italian soccer clubs AC Milan and Inter Milan.

When I got back to the hotel just in time for breakfast, Jon Newman-Gonchar and Jesse Tupac asked if I wanted to go Portello Park to walk up La Collina, a hill with an interesting concept. La Collina is a circular hill that through its design features a different way up than down, with pedestrians walking at certain levels on the way up and on the way down. It was not too terribly demanding, especially after yesterday’s “hills”, so it was a nice walk to get a good view of the parts of Milan we could see. It was worth the trip.

The sculpture at the top of the "La Collina" hill.

The sculpture at the top of the “La Collina” hill.

After a team lunch, it was off to our match, which would take us to Busto Arsizio, Italy. A city of over 80,000 just 20 miles to the north of Milan, we arrived to the PalaYamamay, where we would take on our opponents, Busto Arsizio B1. Busto Arsizio is one of the top volleyball clubs in Italy, with their A1 team playing in Serie A1 and finishing as runners-up in the 2013-14 season. Their B1 team had just recently been crowned B1 regional champions and were preparing for the national championships. You can read about the match, a 3-1 Iowa State victory, here.

After the match, we returned to Milan and headed to the city center for dinner and to see what was all there to offer. We arrived at the Piazza del Duomo and it was really full as Radio Italia was having a concert in the square. It was weird to see a major tourist area clogged up with a massive stage, but it provided for an incredible environment in the area, lots of energy.

The Radio Italia concert at Piazza del Duomo.

The Radio Italia concert at Piazza del Duomo.

Sunday is our final day in Milan and we will be sightseeing and exploring the city.

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Volleyball European Tour Day Eight – Road to Monterosso

The Cyclones before beginning their journey in Cinque Terre.

The Cyclones before beginning their journey in Cinque Terre.

The biggest fear of international travel nearly struck the Iowa State volleyball team late Thursday night and early Friday morning. When we travel from country to country, when we check into our hotels we have to turn in our passports. “Big Brother is watching,” is what our Slovenian tour guide Cory referred to it as. It is kind of a mixed bag because your passport is your most valuable asset outside the United States, it is what is getting us back home in a few days.

However, it also becomes an obsession to know where it is at all times when you have it. The majority of the travel party has probably had at least one moment on this trip where they had a short panic attack because they didn’t know where his or her passport was, until they either quickly found it or remembered “Big Brother” has it (mine was in the Doge Palace Museum yesterday, it almost caused me to miss the weapons armory).

Word had spread late last night that the hotel could not find Suzanne Horner’s passport. When we awoke in the morning, there had not been many or any new developments (it had also only bee five hours as we were supposed to leave early for Cinque Terre). The hotel asked that our team did a quick check of our belonging to make sure no one had grabbed it on accident. When all hope seemed lost, it was found. According to witnesses, the front desk employee hung up the phone, took a look next to it and there it was. Crisis averted.

Our drive to Cinque Terre was dedicated mostly to sleep, as the late night/early morning combo meant the majority of the travel party decided to take advantage of the long drive to rest up for the busy day ahead. A couple of quick notes from the times I was awake. The first is that my soccer stadium seeking took a tough hit when we drove past the home ground of Serie A side Sassuolo, Mapei Stadium – Citta del Tricolore, and I didn’t even notice until I saw a light structure in the distance behind us. Second, while driving through Parma we passed the Barilla Pasta corporate offices and plant. However, considering Ames has a Barilla plant and not a Serie A stadium I would consider the former more of a cultural education.

Thanks to our bus driver, the alleged six hour bus trip to La Spezia ended up being just four-and-a-half, tight corners and random elevation changes were no obstacle for him. From there we took a train to begin our visit to the five villages of Cinque Terre. We started out at the first village of Riomaggiore, where we grabbed a quick lunch. Riomaggiore is a very historic town, but it is also a very narrow area that was tough to navigate until you got high enough up the hill, but by then we needed to report back to the train station so no one really wins there. It was still nice to see the village.

The tight streets of Riomaggiore.

The tight streets of Riomaggiore.

From there we hoped the train to Vernazza, the fourth village of the five was a beautiful village that had some great views of the Mediterranean Sea. The decision has been made for time-purposes to skip villages two and three (Manarola and Corniglia) to stop by this village before our hike, and it was a great decision. It was very tourist-friendly, but it maintained a nice charm with a lot of happiness around it. The harbor area has a pier-like structure that you could walk around and get some great pictures of Vernazza or the Mediterranean.

The Church of Santa Margherita d'Antiochia in Vernazza.

The Church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia in Vernazza.

I was with Christy when on our way back to town from the pier she ran into a couple whose daughter she had recruited while she was at Wisconsin. They had said that they had noticed our local tour guide for the leg, Tim (tough not to, he is close to seven-feet tall), and said they knew she had to be in town. They told us to go around the corner and we would come out to a beach that was not on the map. So we listened and we eventually saw a cave-like entrance, but we were able to also see light. There was no signage and not too many people cramming to get in. We walked through and came out to a rocky, but scenic beach and got our first touch and taste of the Mediterranean of the trip.

The beach in Vernazza. Look for the cave you would otherwise never walk in to.

The beach in Vernazza. Look for the cave you would otherwise never walk in to.

The group re-assembled and it was off for our hike from Vernazza to the fifth village, Monterosso. One of the unique offerings of Cinque Terre is that there is a trail that you can hike (emphasis on hike) that starts in Riomaggiore and ends in Monterosso. However, due to a mudslide a couple of years back and various repairs, not all of it was open so we could not do the full hike, much to Dawn Sullivan and mine’s chagrin (we were ready to take it all on). Yet, the trail we were taking was the most demanding. It is the longest and most difficult in terms of the elevation you go up to and have to get down from, no ski lifts or alpine slides here.

We set off and we looked like we were in for a long one as the first 15-20 minutes of the hike featured a traitorous amount of stairs. The things that kept you going was knowing this was not all stairs until heaven and that the views of the villages and the Mediterranean would be worth it. Once you got through that first portion of stairs, the trail itself settled down, though you had to be ready for anything from crumbling surfaces, low-hanging trees to trail-goers trying to pass on their way to Vernazza. The journey took a little over an hour, but the Cyclones all successfully made it through. It was worth repeating again, it was worth it for the views.

The view of Vernazza from the trail on the hike. It was worth the effort.

The view of Vernazza from the trail on the hike. It was worth the effort.

Once we got down to the Monterosso village itself we only had 10 minutes until we had to catch our train back to La Spezia so we did not have much time to explore. A group of players, Mary Meier and myself decided to head down to the beach to get our dirty, smelly feet into the Mediterranean. The waters were cold, but after the hike we endured it felt great on our weary feet.

The Cyclones getting their feet wet in the Mediterranean Sea.

The Cyclones getting their feet wet in the Mediterranean Sea.

After getting back to La Spezia, we boarded the bus and began our journey to Milan. Once again, our bus driver did his thing and made the alleged three-hour trip in two-and-a-half hours. Once we checked in, we took a walk to Principe for some pasta and veal and called it a night.

Saturday will mark our first full day in Milan, with an afternoon match. Tomorrow’s match will be ISU’s final match of the European Tour.

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Volleyball European Tour Day Seven – Where is San Marco?

Seriously, where is San Marco?

Seriously, where is San Marco?

Thursday was a travel day for the Cyclones, as Iowa State departed Maribor and Slovenia. However, it was an extended goodbye as to get to our destination of Venice, Italy, we would have to cut across Slovenia to get to Italy. Maribor is located in the northeast corner of Slovenia, not very far from the Austrian border, so we had a lot of Slovenia to cover.

There was really no particular highlights of the journey through Slovenia. We made it to the capital of Ljubljana, but we went around the north and west sides of the city and did not get into the big things. However, for what Slovenia didn’t have in flair it made up for in scenery. During our drive, it was pretty much a guarantee that at whatever point you decided to take a look out the window of the bus, you were going to see a great view of the mountains and landscape of the country.

The Slovenian countryside.

The Slovenian countryside.

We eventually made our way into Italy and you could feel the difference right away. Maybe it was the sun finally won its battle to come out, maybe it was something else but you could just sense a different energy once we crossed the border. There were many similarities between the two countries, the roads were lined with trees and wineries, there were still many scattered villages with the church steeples usually being the high point of the towns. We also got our first glimpses of the Mediterranean Sea, which got Dawn Sullivan into a very competitive spirit in an effort to get a photo from the bus.

Venice awaited us and after we checked into our hotel outside of the city center, we loaded a city bus to make the journey into the city center. It is a pretty uneventful journey, and then you begin to cross a bridge and it keeps going and going and going. You are over the waters of what is known as the Laguna Veneta and you are en route. You cannot keep your eyes ahead, because the water around you demands that you see what is out there surrounding this area. Then you arrive, get off the bus and look up. You are in Venice.

Welcome to Venice!

Welcome to Venice!

What makes Venice great and special, but irritating and confusing is its system of how to get around. Many places that you think are going to lead to something new lead to either a dead end or the Grand Canal. You see people going one direction, but you are really tempted to go a completely different direction just to see what is out there. You feel a “risk-reward” type feeling. One for me personally was when I was wandering around I took a right at an innocent looking area. If I would have taken a right, I would have walked right to a merchandise store for Ferrari that featured a full-scale Formula 1 car in the store. A missed opportunity.

Which way should I go?

Which way should I go?

However, in the aforementioned “Search for San Marco”, I ran into another nice little church, the Parish of San Salvador. Not the big, flashy mission to find San Marco, but a nice church that I probably would not have found had I not been in wild pursuit of San Marco.

The Basilica of San Marco dominates the city square of Venice. It’s white color stands out among any sort of weather (and we had the full beautiful and pouring rain to test it out) and even with scaffolding across the top as some restoration work goes on, it makes for a huge presence.

The Basilica of San Marco.

The Basilica of San Marco.

Unfortunately, due to other adventures in and around Venice I was unable to get into the Basilica itself, which closed at 5 p.m., so I opted to go to the attached Doge’s Palace Museum next door. The Doge was the Duke of Venice, the ruler of the Republic of Venice when the island city was an island nation. Since the demise of the Republic of Venice in 1797, the palace has become a stunning museum.

It was similar to Schönbrunn Palace in that it was very lavish for any standard, but it was put to a more practical purpose over making the royal family richer because the Doge of Venice was not a position inherited by blood like royalty is. The Senate Chambers are intimidating and beautiful, the weapons collection from the history of the Doge was incredible to look through and understand the evolution of protecting a nation.

Yet like many things in life, the best was saved for last as the exhibit weaved its way down to the prison system, known as “The Bridge of Sighs”. It was amazing. The prison life is certainly not glorified by any stretch and it is amazing to think that this was how the justice system worked, whether rightfully or wrongfully so. The best part of it all was right as you were leaving the prison area, there is the bridge with two stone windows that overlook the Grand Canal and out to the Mediterranean Sea. You just sigh and head upstairs to have your case heard.

The view from the "Bridge of Sighs" in the Doge Palace Museum.

The view from the “Bridge of Sighs” in the Doge Palace Museum.

After we reassembled as a team, we headed for dinner at Rossopomodoro in San Marco Square for pasta and pizza. I still have three boxes of leftover pizza sitting in front of me. I was going to have some while I write the blog, but I am battling internet issues and that anger does not make me hungry, just frustrated.

We are traveling some more tomorrow as we are going to cross the peninsula and make our way to Cinque Terre for a day trip. After that, we will make the journey north to our final destination of the tour, Milan.

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