Many college students look forward to a summer in Europe filled with new experiences of culture, travel, food, and some studying on the side. For a key member of Tonya Johnson’s volleyball squad, she got to experience the trip to Europe but on more of a business occasion. Not many people have made the journey from Houston to Atlanta to Colorado to New York to Prague. Georgia Tech Volleyball’s middle blocker Chanell Clark-Bibbs has.
A sophomore from Cypress Falls High School in Houston, Clark-Bibbs was a member of the U.S. Women’s Junior National Volleyball Team this past summer. She earned a spot on the roster with the armor of a quiet confidence, a love for the game, and considerable talent. Towards the end of her first fall season on The Flats, Clark-Bibbs was approached by the Tech coaching staff about tryouts for the Junior National Team. Fast forward to February of last spring, she was on a flight to Colorado for the first of over five official tryouts. “I went into it not expecting a whole lot. I love the game of volleyball. I love to play it. I love competition. Of course I wanted to do well and have high expectations for myself, but it wasn’t to the point where I was psyching myself out.”
She did not find out that she had made one of the last rounds until nearly two months later. After waiting a couple more months, the rising sophomore was out to the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, New York, for an intense two weeks filled with two-a-day practices. It took her a few days to become acclimated to her new environment and by the time the training period was over, Chanell was ready for a break. “It wasn’t too bad but after two weeks straight your body needs a break…we were all really competitive and we wanted to push each other.” The beginning of June served as a cram session for players because the team was only allowed an hour of practice a day across the pond. Despite a rainy summer, Clark-Bibbs recalls the countryside of northern New York as one of the prettiest sights of her whole summer experience.
The end of June marked the beginning of another new environment in the Czech Republic. “That was my first time out of the country,” stated Clark-Bibbs. “It was a great experience. I had a lot of fun.”
She remembers most of her time at the team’s hotel developing relationships with friends new and old. “You had a lot of time to yourself. Only so much was devoted to volleyball. You were around your teammates a lot.” It also didn’t hurt to have rooms described as “pretty nice.” Coming from the state where, according to those who have grown up sipping the Lone Star Kool-Aid, everything is bigger and better, Chanell had the chance to reunite with old friends. “There were a lot of girls from Texas and we kind of knew each other previously so I had some relationships and I met some new people that I keep in contact with.”
Not everything at the team’s hotel was smooth though. “The biggest shock was when we went to the hotel and they thought we were going to steal the silverware. They told our tour guide to tell us not to take anything. I thought that was really interesting.” However, she supplied her own silverware when sampling her favorite cuisine of the summer in Prague. “The pork dishes I really enjoyed. We had a lot of pork and bread.”
One of the main takeaways from her summer in Europe wasn’t the sights or eats, but competing against the best. Her competitive drive was what fueled her on the court last summer. “Of course there’s always somebody out there better than you are. The competitive side of me says that I want to be better than that person. I’m going to see what they’re doing and try to be better than them at their skill. I think playing with some of the bets girls in the country makes you want to work hard and be better than the person next to you…It’s about raising your level of play and everyone else’s around you.”
She also took away a stronger discipline. “The biggest thing I learned is being disciplined and producing the techniques, footwork, and small fundamental things consistently and doing it right will make you better.”
Clark-Bibbs hopes to do the same next year when she will tryout for the national team. As one might dream, the feeling of wearing the Red, White, and Blue is one of the most special any American can dream of. “It felt so good. It felt like I really accomplished something. Something that I never expected, I had the chance to do and represent my country. “
Before that time comes, there’s plenty of work to this fall for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets dropped their first two games in ACC play and, according to Clark-Bibbs, are in search of the chemistry level achieved in the preseason.
That led to an old-fashioned game of Hide and Seek in Atlantic Station in which, not surprisingly, Clark-Bibbs came out on top. The Tech team will hope to have a winning effort from Clark-Bibbs again this weekend with Florida State and Miami at home. What is Clark-Bibbs looking forward to about playing some of the ACC’s best? The same thing she loved over the summer.
“I’m looking forward to the competition. Playing tough teams is fun.”