Lauren Toon has had a busy summer, including a week of international volleyball competition in Europe.
Toon, 16, and an incoming junior and third-year varsity volleyball player at West High, spent July 16-19 in the Croatian city of Pula at the tip of the Istria Peninsula, where the west coast of Croatia meets the Adriatic Sea. She was part of the 15th Global Challenge, including a 16-team under-18 tournament and an under-23 tournament.
That gave the local Wolf Pack player a chance to see the type of players who make the national teams from other countries.
“I expected the competition to be really good. Oh my goodness, they were super good,” Toon said. “They were all 6-foot or above. I think there were three girls that were almost 7-foot.”
Her own team, BIP Chicago, was formed by Bring It Promotions, which hosted the tournament and assembled a collection of USA teams to play against teams from various European countries, Iran, Japan and China. She joined the team on the recommendation of Tiger Shelton, her coach from Pacific Coast Volleyball of Stockton and the new head coach of the women’s volleyball program at William Jessup University in Rocklin.
Toon hadn’t met most of her teammates until they all arrived in Prague.
They met with the Czech Republic team for a couple of scrimmages and then took a bus to Pula for the tournament.
“Most of the teams over there were national teams,” said Christine Toon, Lauren’s mother and the head coach of the West volleyball team. “So they’re playing teams that are practicing and working together. All of these guys (on the USA teams) come together, have a couple practices and then play.”
Over the course of the tournament, the BIP Chicago players went 3-4, taking 12th place. They played teams from the Netherlands, the Faroe Islands, Germany, Finland, and Hungary, another U.S. team, and the host team from Pula.
They became close with the Czech team after their initial scrimmages and then the long bus ride through Austria and Slovenia.
“They were super nice. At first, we were a little iffy about them,” Lauren Toon said. “We were all sleeping in the back of the bus and they turned their music on and started singing.”
It turned out that showing each other how to have fun would create a lasting bond.
“They came to our games and would cheer us on,” she said.
She added that the competition was different from club volleyball in California or the league West High plays in.
“I would say they were a lot stronger than I would see in league, and a lot taller. Instead of just a few players, the whole team was stacked with all of those players.”
She also met players who are on their way to NCAA teams next, and the tournament also included an under-23 women’s bracket.
“I got exposed to really good players,” she said. “The position that I want to play in college, I got to see other college players doing it, so I could watch how they move, and see what I could do better to fix what I do wrong.”