Reminder Assistant Editor
WILBRAHAM Although his trip to an international volleyball tournament in Amsterdam, Holland, had to be canceled due to a scheduling conflict, Mark Thomas, a 2006 graduate of Minnechaug Regional High School, still had the chance to travel to Europe to compete against some of the best volleyball players in the world last month.
"Volleyball is huge in Europe," Thomas told Reminder Publications last November. "This [was] my first big time opportunity."
He explained that his team, made up of players from around the United States, were switched from the Amsterdam tournament to the Scottish Open Volleyball Tournament (SOVT) in Scotland, which took place May 24 and 25. This is the largest volleyball event in the United Kingdom and this was the tournament's 23rd year.
Thomas said his team, the U.S.A. Athletes, played against the Scotland National Olympic team, the Glasgow Mets, the Edinburgh Jets and a team from Poland.
From May 19 through the start of the tournament, the team played scrimmages against teams from local cities. Thomas said the U.S. team lost a few of their first scrimmages because of a lack of communication. The teams they were competing against had all been playing together for a while this was the first time the amalgamated American team had worked together. "By the tourney, we had it down pat," he noted.
On a personal basis, Thomas said his entire team "clicked really well."
"During the tournament, we played three games a day," Thomas said. "That was an advantage for us because we were the youngest team there."
He added that there were only two really close games during the tournament the final game of their semi-final bracket and the final game of the championship.
"Everybody wanted to see us go down," Thomas stated, "because the American team won last year too."
A summary of their play from the SOVT Web site, www.sovt.co.uk, said, "Bill Eddington's U.S.A. Athletes International team certainly lived up to their potential in a thrilling weekend's volleyball at Bell's Sports Centre as the 23rd Scottish Open Volleyball Tournament attracted a total of 111 teams to the Fair City of Perth.
"Indoors in the division of honour section one the U.S.A. Athletes men's side were in action against Team Fife (25-22, 25-21), Rucanor Jets (22-25, 25-17, 15-13) and the Scottish Lions (25-21, 25-22) to finish top of their section and qualify for Sunday's semi-finals.
"Sunday morning's competition started with the Division of Honour semi-finals with the USA Athletes narrowly pipping Zall Poland 25-23, 25-23 to reach the final.
"The men's final followed on the centre court with plenty of atmosphere in the 500 or so congregated in the spectator galleries surrounding the court. GB squad member Ali Galloway captained the Caledonia side; Mark Thomas fulfilling the similar role for the Americans. The first set was an enthralling affair with the Scots always chasing the Americans who after 32 minutes' play recorded victory by 25 points to 21. The second set began with the American students edging ahead but a spirited fightback by the Scots saw them level the game at one set all, the scoreline reading 25-19. The third set decider was evenly matched although the Americans turned round just ahead. The Scots rallied again but it was to no avail as the Tourists triumphed to lift the Scottish Open title 15-10 to delirious celebrations involving the whole American party."
"The crowds over there are quieter," Thomas said. "We were out there, cheering for ourselves."
Once the tournament ended, the American team had the opportunity to see some of the country.
"Scotland is a beautiful place," Thomas stated, "and they're very passionate about their history. I admire that."
Thomas said he has been invited to go next to the tournament in Amsterdam, and he added that he would love to do it again.
His trip to Scotland would not have been possible without the help of those who aided him during his fundraising for the journey, however.
"I want to thank everybody for their support. Without them, this wouldn't have been possible," Thomas said.
He will be returning to Newbury College this fall as a junior and said he can't wait for volleyball season to begin he feels he can bring more to the team because of his experience in the SOVT.