ST. GEORGE – Volleyballs cannoned into a crowd full of mostly senior folks on Thursday morning at the Dixie Center St. George, as women determined to set, spike and dive their way to the Huntsman World Senior Games gold.
The Germans were warming up on the main stage of the Senior Games volleyball competition. These Germans weren’t fragile, flabby seniors. These were true, hardbodied athletes who would fit in perfectly on a Sports Illustrated cover.
The German players, in matching warm-ups sponsored by a German athletic clothing company, stood out like a not-so-sore thumb amongst the other teams in the gym. A full crowd surrounded the main court in anticipation of the German-Canadian match; both teams were made up of mostly former professional athletes.
On the far opposite end of the gym from the German-Canadian warm-up, another match was being played between “Team Dixie” and “The Rockstars.” The Team Dixie women were wearing mismatched shorts and cotton T-shirts with ironed-on numbers. This hodgepodge of local ladies from St. George and Cedar City had no supporting fans, but they didn’t seem to care.
Loud screeches were heard as St. George resident Alva Jones’ skin slid across the gymnasium floor on a dive to save the ball before the end of the third set. Sweat dripped from Team Dixie’s huddle as the excited and upbeat athletes began the last set.
Team Dixie won the game, and and would play two more games Thursday in their quest to reach the final tournament beginning Friday.
They had been scrambling the last week just to find six well-bodied players for Team Dixie, Team Captain Sharon Grisham said, and they finally played together for the first time ever Wednesday.
“Yesterday, we had to learn each other’s names,” team member Joyce Madsen of St. George said.
The German team’s journey has been more substantial. They have been playing together since last November when Coach Klaus Drauschke held nationwide tryouts to find the best athletes in the country. Eleven athletes from Hamburg to Munich were selected for Team Germany.
Five of the German players were former international traveling athletes, Petra Gielkens, a team captain, said; and most of the rest of them were former professional athletes who at one point or another played on the German National team. The German athletes have been playing and training for the Senior Games ever since, she said.
The Germans and Team Dixie will not be playing each other since they are in two different talent divisions. Some of the German players have played at the Senior Games before, but they have never made it this far in the tournament. And they played for the championship of their divisions last night at Desert Hills High School; results unavailable as this report is prepared for publication.
Team Dixie will be entering their division tournament Friday and Grisham said on Thursday morning that she is anticipating her team will take second place in their division if they play their best.
Whether they return home with a trophy or not, neither team seems to care. The members of both teams said they were just thrilled to be still playing sports.
Team Dixie was all smiles after their match. They were even cheering for their opponents from the sidelines and working the scoreboard for other matches going on throughout the Dixie Center.
“We’re all just having a blast,” Kathy Duncan said.
As for the Germans, and their considerable journey, they were enjoying the games and the atmosphere just as much as Team Dixie.
“All of these people here are so nice and warm and welcoming” Gielkens said. “It’s an atmosphere we didn’t expect. … It’s just a great experience for us.”
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Ed. Note: Senior Games Volleyball competition has been ongoing from last Friday and will conclude on Saturday. The intention of this report is to give a snapshot of two teams from different regions and divisions on one morning of the sport in the Games. For detailed information on results and remaining schedule, visit the Huntsman World Senior Games website here.
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