South Carolina volleyball player Juliette Thévenin has been a vital asset to the team’s success over the last three seasons. The 6-2 Junior from Mont-sur-Marchinne, Belgium currently has 902 kills in her career and is well on her way to breaking her individual high of 350 kills as she already has 231 kills just past the midpoint of the 2012 season.
“She’s an experienced player from Europe,” head coach Scott Swanson said. “Her dad’s a coach. She’s a big, strong girl that can hit the ball hard. She plays all six rotations so she’s been our go-to hitter.”
Though Thévenin won’t reach the top 10 in career kills, she entered her junior season third in school history in kills per set and in the top 10 in digs per set. She presents a threat that opponents must game plan for.
“We’re trying to take a little bit of responsibility off her shoulders sometimes, spreading the ball out more,” Swanson said. “It becomes predictable what we’re going to do and who we’re going to set, and when we play the good teams they know she’s going to get the ball. It’s a lot of pressure for her to try and kill the balls against a really good team that has six players ready for it. It’s one of those things where she has to realize she is the player they’re going after and she has to step it up even more and change up her shots. She’s not going to be able to power up against these big blocks that we see.”
Thévenin is the only foreign player on the Carolina roster, but there is a foreign presence in college volleyball. Soccer is well-known as the world’s most popular sport, but most people do not realize that volleyball is second. Swanson believes there would be more of a foreign presence in the sport if there was not such a gamble in it. Often time’s foreign players wait until the last minute to make a life-changing decision to leave their country and venture into an unknown world to them. Some coaches have built pipelines into other countries and their club teams, but if a player decides not to come or does not qualify, they could be left with an empty scholarship.
“People in the United States don’t really realize how big the game is everywhere else,” Swanson said. “It’s getting big here, but it’s huge in most other countries. They have pro leagues and tons of people go and watch. It’s big in Europe and South American countries. There’s a lot of really good volleyball outside of the United States.”
Thévenin was contacted by former coach Ben Somera about coming over to the United States and playing for South Carolina.
“The previous coach saw my stats on-line because I was playing for the National Team and he contacted me through email and asked me if I was interested in coming and playing in the United States,” Thévenin said. “At first I was like ‘that’s really far from my family and house,’ but then I was like ‘why not’?”
Like any other person that leaves their family, friends, and culture behind and goes into a foreign environment, there is a huge adjustment period. The soft-spoken Belgian struggled at first, but has become much more comfortable with her new atmosphere.
“It was really hard at first because I came in and I didn’t know anybody,” Thévenin said. “I was just here by myself, but my teammates helped me a lot. Now I’m home.”
Once Thévenin got adjusted to the new environment she was able to focus more on volleyball and less on feeling comfortable in Columbia.
“I’ve improved so much in every aspect of the game,” Thévenin said. “I think I’m a more confident player and now I’m trying to be a leader because I’m the leader in scoring, but I have to try and be a mental leader too.”
The recent rough stretch on the court has taken its toll on the players and coaches. The losing streak is now at four matches and they will be traveling to College Station to take on Texas A&M Friday night, perhaps the toughest environment in the SEC. No Gamecock has ever played in College Station so they just have to go in there and fight.
“It’s been tough, but I think we just have to keep it up,” Thévenin said. “We can’t stop playing hard because we lost. We’re going to lose, that’s just what happens in volleyball. We just have to keep fighting and play hard in practice and in the games. If we keep playing hard and keep believing we’ll be okay.”
While Thévenin and the team will be on the road between College Station Friday and Baton Rouge to take on LSU Sunday, They will be tuning in to ESPN Saturday night to watch the football game between fifth-ranked Georgia and sixth-ranked South Carolina.
“For sure,” Thévenin said “We’re a little bummed that we’re not here for College GameDay, but it’s life for an athlete.”