Baldwin’s Baloh, Avonworth’s Gavin play volleyball in Croatia
Baldwin senior Anna Baloh has taken her game to another level.
Baloh, an athletic 5-foot-5 outside hitter and third-year starter on the girls volleyball team, recently competed with BIP Chicago at the 15th annual Global Challenge held in Pula, Croatia.
“I’m actually in Croatia playing in the Global Challenge with a team from California,” Baloh said via text message during the event, held in mid-July. “My coach, Mike Becker, from last year’s club team (Pittsburgh Elite 16 Premier) recommended my friend and I to the coach from Cali because he knew about this tournament.”
Baloh’s friend, Makenna Gavin, is a 5-11 senior outside hitter at Avonworth.
“I was recommended for this team by my former club coach,” Gavin said. “The coach of the BIP Chicago team was his mentor. He asked me around Christmas time if I was interested in traveling.”
The BIP Chicago team was coached by Tiger Shelton from the Pacific Coast Volleyball Club. Five players on the team represented PCVC.
The group flew eight hours into Prague and returned home from Venice a nine-and-a-half-hour plane ride.
Trip itinerary included a pre-tour visit to Prague, traveling to Austria and Slovenia, competing in the tournament, then a visit to Venice.
BIP Chicago competed against teams from the Netherlands, Faroe Islands, Slovenia, Finland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and New York.
“The trip was so much fun and a great experience,” Baloh said. “I would go back and play again if I could. All the girls on my team were so welcoming and great teammates.
“I played as an outside (hitter) which was fun because most of the girls from the other teams were about six-feet tall. So it was challenging to hit against them but it would shock the girls when I got it past them.”
Highlights of the trip outside of the competition were the city tours and a day of cliff jumping.
“We visited and practiced in Prague for three days before traveling to Croatia,” Baloh said. “We stopped in Vienna, Austria, on our way to grab lunch and then headed to Maribor, Slovenia for the night. The next day we traveled to Pula, Croatia for the tournament. We stayed in Pula for five days and then went to Venice.
“We were only in Venice one night but it was just so gorgeous and the food was amazing. Venice was definitely my favorite city because of the canals instead of streets, and it is so big. Our tour guide said that five hours would be enough for us but we were so sad when we had to leave because we all loved being there so much and could have stayed much longer. I would definitely go back if I could.”
The team’s cliff-jumping adventure took place in Pula.
“We went for about an hour and it was a blast,” Baloh said. “We could jump from any height because there were no guides or restrictions on what to do. I was pretty scared at first, but I ended up jumping off the highest cliff which was about 30 feet. Not many people jumped from that one.
“It was just so much fun to meet people from other countries and even the girls on my team who were from California. We traveled to Croatia with a Czech team and I got to be pretty close with one of the girls. We also had a girl from Italy on our team, and it was so much fun to become friends with her. After the ending ceremonies, we went back to the hotel and traded shirts and jerseys with the other teams. I got a bunch of cool jerseys to take home.”
Baldwin coach Chris Kelly might have been a bit squeamish when he heard about the cliff jumping but nevertheless endorsed Baloh’s participation on the 11-day trip.
“I am thrilled for Anna that she had the opportunity to participate with a team that traveled and played abroad,” Kelly said. “For Baldwin, Anna has been primarily a front-row player as an outside hitter. Anna’s serve-receive and defense have been steadily improving. Her goal is to be a player who never comes off the floor, and she’s certainly working her way toward that.”
One player from each squad was named to the all-tournament team. For BIP Chicago, that honor went to Gavin, a four-year starter at Avonworth and a Gannon recruit.
Gavin is a two-time all-state and All-WPIAL selection. She competed as a right-side hitter in Europe.
“It was a great opportunity to see the world and play different teams from different countries,” Gavin said. “It allowed me to see the different styles of play and atmospheres. I’ve committed to play in college at Gannon, and I think this trip prepared me a little bit more for what is to come.
“Overall, the trip as a whole was just a huge highlight in my life, and I would definitely do it again. Learning new things from a new coach helped me become a better player, and playing with girls from California, Chicago and also Italy was a great experience, as well. We all bonded immediately to make a great team in the end.”
Gavin, whose favorite city to explore was Prague, said the bonding experience extended to girls on opposing teams.
“There was a Czech team that traveled with us to Pula, and we became friends with them,” Gavin said. “They came to watch us play and cheered for us.
“We had the most fun exploring Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge and the Czech Eiffel Tower. Venice was the prettiest city we visited. We took a water taxi through town and spent the rest of the day trying to find our way out of the maze of streets.”
The closing ceremony came too fast for the BIP Chicago team.
“Everyone was able to trade shirts at the closing ceremony,” Gavin said, “and it was cool to get jerseys from different countries.”
Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.