Sport

Young volleyballer’s USA stay cut short

Eloise van Velthooven waits at the net during an inter-collegiate beach volleyball match. Photo: Supplied.

Eloise van Velthooven’s four years of playing top-level college volleyball and studying in the United States came to an abrupt end in March.

The former Marlborough Girls’ College stand-out, who represented the senior New Zealand women’s side while still at school, has been competing and studying in the United States since 2016.

After spending her first two years at Parkland College in Champaign, Illinois, the 1.86m 22-year-old shifted her skills to Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi, situated on the Texas Gulf Coast.

In the latter stages of completing a degree in exercise science, and having recently been recruited to compete on the college beach volleyball circuit, Eloise returned to the US following a short 2019 Christmas break in New Zealand with definite plans for the following six months.

However, as happened the world over, the arrival of COVID-19 threw all those best-laid plans out of the window.

“I had completed my four years of indoor volleyball but then I got asked to play a season of beach volleyball,” she explained. “Training started in late January and we had just finished our first two tournaments by the middle of March.

“We practiced in the morning, then the coaches called us back and told us the season was postponed for a month, then it was cancelled.

“We knew that we would be affected [by the COVID pandemic] … one of our team mates had to return to her home country and we wondered if she would be back, but we never thought that our season would be cancelled. That was a shock. Then we immediately went into an extended Spring break and school studies were put online.

Action from an indoor volleyball clash. Photo: Supplied.
Action from an indoor volleyball clash. Photo: Supplied.

“I intended to stay on [in Texas] anyway, my apartment’s lease was paid for … but then everything escalated really quickly.

“My parents started calling me more often, asking if I was fine, and I told them I was. But then they called up and said, ‘no, you are coming home, we have got a flight for you in two days’.

“So, I got back to New Zealand on Tuesday, the day before lockdown began. I was quite lucky really.”

Back home, Eloise completed her studies on-line, graduating with a Bachelor of Kinesiology [exercise science] degree, but has had to forego her graduation ceremony.

She fully intended to return to the States in August, begin studying for a Masters degree and play out the beach volleyball season, but decided this week that she would stay put, at least in the meantime.

“I had to make a decision,” she explained, “I hate the waiting and in the long run it is hard to see [the virus situation] getting better.”

Another reason to return at some stage is the fact that, due to her hurried departure, Eloise has had to leave most of her belongings, accumulated over the past four years, behind.

“I brought a suitcase back, and that’s all I need at the moment, but I guess it’s a good reason to go back when their borders open again.

“I am also a bridesmaid for a former Illinois team mate next June so that’s another excuse to go back.”

Eloise enjoyed plenty of success at both colleges.

In her freshman year at Parkland, her side won the national [NJCAA] junior division two title, losing just two of their 53 games for the year. In her second [sophomore] year they lost just six games, and wound up fourth.

At Texas A&M the lofty outside hitter competed in the senior NCAA division one, as part of the Southland Conference, and helped her side reach the competition semifinals.

Eloise played for the New Zealand under-18 team in 2014, the NZ schools side in 2015 and the national women’s team in 2015 and 2016.

This year she became fully immersed in her new pursuit, beach volleyball being a growing sport in the States, and had already come up against some handy opposition.

“In our first tournament we player the number one and two college teams in the nation, it was a cool experience but they are very good. I’m still learning the ropes on the sand,” she added.

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