BY JD PELEGRINO
Makena Schoene is on to bigger and better things as she is heading to the Czech Republic to make a name for herself in professional volleyball. Schoene attended Drake from 2013-2017 as a member of the Women’s Volleyball team with aspirations to become an author/book editor. In Shoene’s junior season in 2015, she led the team with 406.5 points and 350 kills (godrakebulldogs.com). In her senior season, she finished with 281 kills among other statistics. Schoene will be joining the Czech Republic’s team, Volejbal Přerov alongside three other new members from her tryout.
Q: What team and league are you playing in?
A: Volejbal Prerov — First division in the Czech Republic.
Q: How did you get in contact with the pros in the Czech Republic? And when did you first see this as a possibility?
A: I started thinking seriously about playing professionally in December of my junior year of college. My father had played professional basketball in Italy and I thought, “Why not me too?” It would be a great chance to take my game to the next level and see the world at the same time. I talked with Coach Cloud about my plans and she supported me 100 percent. The encouragement I received from my coaches and teammates at Drake helped me get past any mental blocks. When I had moments where I didn’t think I was good enough to get picked up by a team overseas, they were always there to help me and push me not to give up on this dream. Their belief in my abilities made all the difference. Plus, I didn’t feel like I was ready to give up volleyball – I still had so much to learn about the game and improve in my own skills.
Coaches McBroom and Cloud recommended an agency, Bring It Promotions, that puts on tryouts during the year. I ended up going to the August Firesale in Maribor, Slovenia where a group of about 14 of us practiced together. On the third day of the tryout, coaches were invited to watch in person or via a live stream. A team from Hungary invited me on a tryout at their gym on the first day, but I decided to stay and see what other offers might come my way. Two days later, the volleyball club in Prerov contacted me and two other girls and invited us to a tryout after seeing us play in the live stream. We took a night bus to the Czech Republic and had a three day tryout at the gym in Prerov with the coach and few of their players. After three days, they offered all three of us contracts and we all accepted!
Q: What have you been up to since graduation?
A: After graduation, I came back home to Seattle and started training for the tryout in August. About five days a week was spent with a strength and conditioning coach, and I went back to my old club and joined in as a practice player for some of their high school teams. I just tried to get as many reps as I could, no matter the age or skill level of the girls I was practicing with. When I couldn’t get in with a team, my father and I would go to the local park and just work on footwork and movement drills where you didn’t need a net. I was also lucky to have one of my old coaches agree to work with me in a few private tutoring sessions. In international volleyball, there are a limited number of substitutions, so players are expected to play all six rotations. At Drake, we ran a system of play where I didn’t serve receive, so I asked my old coach to serve at me for two hours straight a few times a week. It was extremely frustrating, it was like I was learning the skill all over again, but when I got to Maribor, my passing had really improved and probably helped get me the job.
Q: Any thoughts on the whole experience so far?
A: This is an incredible experience and I am so lucky to have had the support of my family and team at Drake throughout the whole process. I went into the tryout in Maribor knowing that the odds of me getting a job weren’t high, and to now be living in the Czech Republic with a contract is surreal. I have always dreamed of living in Europe, and now I am getting paid to live abroad and play the sport I love. I have also been lucky enough to have had a few free weekends to travel around central Europe, including Prague and Budapest, Hungary.
Q: What are you most excited to get out of your experience through all of this?
A: I’m looking forward to the level of international competition and becoming a more well-rounded player. They have different styles of play in Europe, but in the end, it’s all volleyball. You still only get three touches and you still have to find a way to score. Since the language barrier can make it hard to understand instructions sometimes, I have to remember to take a step back and just play the game I know.
Q: How do you see the language barrier impacting your international experience?
A: Luckily many of the girls speak some English, and there are about three who can carry on full conversations with us. They usually translate instructions about drills so we know what’s going on. But they don’t always remember to clue us in, especially during the chaos of a match, so I spend a lot of time watching my coach’s hand gestures and then observing what the others girls do and how they are moving. My coach speaks very limited English and he sometimes just yells “Shoes!” at us from across the court. This could mean “Move your feet” or “Get to the ball” or even “What were you thinking?” Other than that, I bought a pocket dictionary and I am picking up certain phrases that will help me when I’m in town mingling with the locals like “I would like a coffee” – that’s a pretty important phrase to learn in any language.
Shoene has been living in Europe since early August with her team in the Czech Republic ever since she was extended a contract about a month ago. The official season does not start until Oct. 14, but Shoene and Volejbal Přerov have preseason games and tournaments on the weekends leading up until then.