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Minium: For ODU Volleyball and its "Founding Mothers," it was a "Trip of a Lifetime"


NORFOLK, Va. – It was the 11th night of a trip to Spain and Portugal for the Old Dominion volleyball team, and the Monarchs were on a bus headed back to their hotel in Lisbon, Portugal.
For the six "Founding Mothers" of ODU volleyball, as they were nicknamed on social media, it was their last time together.
They're called the Founding Mothers because they were part of head coach Fred Chao's first recruiting class and came to ODU a year before the Monarchs officially began playing volleyball. They redshirted a season, scrimmaging other college teams, and then hit the ground running in 2021.
His first recruiting class had a special edge, and, as it turned out, displayed a ton of sportsmanship and humility.
You know that when you come to a start-up program that you're not going to win a conference title or go to the NCAA Tournament. Your satisfaction must come from being the first, a pioneer.
And that, Chao said, takes a very special kind of person.
As Chao's recruiting got better, some saw their playing time decrease markedly. They took it in stride because they also knew that often happened in start-up programs.

So, as Madeline Rudd, Anna Burkhardt, Valentina Culaciati, Ashley Peroe, Hailey Duncan and Olivia De Jesus sat together for the last time, the memories began to pour out.
"It wasn't something we planned," Rudd said. "But we knew it was the final minutes of all of us being together. It just happened."
They talked about that first season when they practiced and did not play and then their first game, a stunning, 3-0 victory over George Mason in 2021 at the ODU Volleyball Center. They talked about road trips they made together, coping with the pandemic and so many good times spent away from the court with each other.
For Dr. Wood Selig, ODU's Director of Athletics, it was the finest part of what had been a great trip.
"It was an amazing conversation," he said. "They knew they would not all be together again for a long time. Maybe not ever.
"Hearing the stories, you could tell how very close they are. It was very touching."

Chao called the trip to Spain and Portugal "the end of chapter one for our program."

Five of the Founding Mothers have graduated.

De Jesus, a 6-foot redshirt junior, is the only returning Founding Mother and will be on the court Friday at 3 p.m. when the Monarchs host their intrasquad scrimmage at the ODU Volleyball Center. The scrimmage is free and open to the public.
The trip began in Barcelona, Spain on May 16 on Chao's birthday and he was able to celebrate over dinner with his team, coaches, athletic administrators and his wife, Dana; daughter, Keira and son, Kylar.
The trip then took the Monarchs to Soria and Madrid in Spain before heading to Lisbon, Portugal. The trip was paid for by an ODU donor whom Chao said prefers to remain anonymous.

"I can't thank him enough," Chao said. "It was the trip of a lifetime for so many of our players."
Although four of ODU's freshmen weren't eligible under NCAA rules to make the trip, this year's team will be closer because of the time spent together, Chao said. ODU won all of its matches, but Chao said the bonding occurred mostly off the volleyball court.
"We're going to be a more cohesive bunch because of this trip," he said. "There's nothing that brings a team together more than spending time together on the road."

The team saw castles, forts, churches and so many other historic sites – the trip was led by guides hired to take care of the volleyball team. Yet assistant coach Adam McLamb said his favorite part of the trip involved watching the Monarchs become closer.
"It was great to see the team outside the gym, doing so many things together, and just bonding," McLamb said. "We saw so many new cities and were exposed to different cultures. But my favorite part was just getting closer with the players, just realizing who they are off the court."

Assistant coach Aaron Ahloe said the trip corrected some misconceptions he had about the two Iberian Peninsula countries.

"I was surprised on how globalized some of the major cities were, like Barcelona and Madrid," he said. "I was expecting the smaller town feel for all the cities but when you went to the city centers, they are big cities with a lot of modern buildings.

"When you stretched off to the side streets, then you could see more of the old towns."
There are huge crowds of tourists in Spain and Portugal during the spring, but assistant coach Becca Lamb said she can't remember anyone being rude.
"Every interaction with people was friendly, especially all of our servers and every restaurant," she said. "They didn't seem annoyed that we were just a big massive group of Americans.
"Everyone was so friendly and engaging and that made things very comfortable."

Lamb said she tried, unsuccessfully, to not shed any tears in the team's final moments together on the bus.
"The goodbyes were definitely tearful," she said.
Rudd said some of the stories were humorous. They joked about De Jesus, who was so shy as a freshman that Chao began to wonder whether she was ready for college.

"When Fred said something about that, we told him, that's not Olivia," she said. "We told him she's very engaging, even a little loud, away from the court. She's opened up after that and has been such a good teammate."
The Monarchs worked out that first season at the Student Rec Center and Rudd said the floors were so slippery, and she was so undeveloped as an athlete, that she slipped and fell virtually every time the team did wind sprints.

"They've never let me forget that," she said.
And then there was the time that Selig came into the Student Rec Center, where the Monarchs were working out just after the pandemic, with a sad look on his face.

"He told us, 'I'm sorry guys, but we can't practice here today,'" he said. After a pregnant pause he said "that's because we have to go to our new gym."
He meant the ODU Volleyball Center, which was constructed in the Jim Jarrett Athletic Administration Building.
"That's when we got the first look at the volleyball center," she said. "It was so amazing to see it for the first time. What a great surprise."


The trip served double duty for Rudd, who is spending this summer as an au pair for a Spanish family. She was able to board a metro and meet her family ahead of time. When she returns to America, she hopes to return to school and become a physician's assistant.
"Experiencing everything we did in Europe together with my closest friends, that was such a great way to end my career," she said.
Echoing Chao, she added: "It was the trip of a lifetime. I can't thank the donor enough for making it possible."
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