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Volleyball Dodges Hurricane Irene to Get Home from Philadelphia Tournament

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Hurricane irene.JPGThe travel theme continues on Spurs Up Blog this week with more Hurricane Irene-related scheduling issues (left: NASA picture on 8/27). As the powerful storm approached the east coast, the South Carolina Volleyball team found themselves headed right for the hurricane's path in Philadelphia for the Temple Invitational (which they would go on to sweep 3-0, check out the recaps here).

Before the team even left for Philly on Thursday, Director of Operations Shane Wilkinson found himself working quickly to set up contingency plans should disaster strike. The first hint of trouble was when their flight from Charlotte to Philadelphia on Thursday was delayed.

"Before even leaving on Thursday, we were prepared to make an emergency flight or make an emergency call to a bus company to drive us home if our flight was canceled," said Wilkinson. "Going to Temple, we had our original itinerary and then myself and [graduate assistant Amy Pauly] started to plan for an emergency just in case we needed to."

Once they arrived to Temple to begin play on Friday, the rumblings had begun that the tournament would have to be re-structured or several matches would have to be canceled to accommodate changing travel schedules. Stony Brook (New York) learned they would have to leave by noon on Saturday to get back home before the storm's expected arrival in New York (with a match scheduled against the Gamecocks at 5:00 p.m.) Montana was instructed by their administration to leave as early as possible. They booked an emergency flight for 6:00 a.m. Saturday morning, leaving only the Gamecocks, Stony Brook, and Temple left to play in the tournament after Friday night. The Gamecocks had already played the Grizzlies Friday night before their departure, beating them in three straight sets. 

Thumbnail image for Juliette Thevenin Temple MVP award.jpegTournament organizers ended up being able to move up all the match times. Originally scheduled to play Temple at 12:00 p.m. and Stony Brook at 5:00 p.m., the Gamecocks ended up playing back-to-back matches, facing Stony Brook at 10:00 a.m. and Temple immediately following around 12:30 p.m. The Gamecocks won both and sophomore Juliette Thevenin won tournament MVP and most valuable attacker honors en route to being named SEC Offensive Player of the Week and our AgSouth Athlete of the Week.

 "Temple was in a very tough situation to try to accommodate all three teams that had to fly or leave early to get out of there safely, but Temple did the best they could to reorganize the invitational, and a lot of it was timely how they had to make the decision," said Wilkinson. "Temple did, in my opinion, a really good job of restructuring the tournament to fit everyone's needs and desires."

Planning travel logistics for a large group can be stressful enough with transportation, hotels, meals, etc., but add in closings and cancellations and you have a potential nightmare on your hands. While the airlines canceled flights, bus companies were telling Wilkinson and Pauly they might not be allowed on the roads at all. At one point, in the midst of dozens of phone calls and conversations with the airport, our travel agent and bus companies, Wilkinson was even told there was a possibility the team wouldn't be able to leave Philadelphia before Tuesday morning!

"I struggle with people telling me it can't be done. There's a group of 22 people and everyone wants to get home. There's no way that would've worked...We just kept an eye on the Philadelphia airport log after we heard different rumors saying that the city of Philadelphia was going to shut down  at 6:00 Saturday evening with no public transportation, no airport, no nothing," explained Wilkinson. "So we kept an eye on the internet all day long and after our final match with Temple we went ahead and decided to go ahead to the airport."

The team made it out of Philly by the skin of their teeth on a 5:55 p.m. flight, just minutes before the 6:00 p.m. cut-off thinking they were in the clear. They dodged the hurricane and made their flight back to Charlotte where a bus would transport back home to Columbia, everyone in good spirits after sweeping the tournament. But, that's not the end of this travel saga.

On I-77 at about Rock Hill, an emergency light came on and about 10 seconds later, the entire bus shut down and the driver had to coast into a rest stop. The team ended up waiting another two and a half hours for a replacement bus. After such a difficult situation, some people might let the stress and frustration get the best of them, but not these girls.

"They had a dance party outside," said Wilkinson, laughing. "They made the best of it and had a Macarena dance off and played some other games outside. The TVs were still working in the bus so we were able to watch some other volleyball that was going on around the country. So it wasn't really that bad, it could've been a lot worse. It could've been raining, it could've been hot or extremely cold, but it wasn't that bad. Inconvenient, but not bad."

For Wilkinson personally, handling the situation was a lot to deal with, but the team and the staff did their best to go with the flow and stay calm.

"It was a lot, and I give a lot of credit to Amy for helping me out in those situations," said Wilkinson. "I'm more of a nervous person anyway, but I tried to remain calm in front of the girls so that they wouldn't get upset or weren't worried that something bad was going to happen. I kept telling myself, and the staff kept reminding each other, that we were eventually going to get home. It may not have been as early as we'd like, or it might have been an 11 hour bus ride, but sooner or later we were going to get home."

The Gamecocks open competition at home this weekend with the Gamecock Invitational, playing two matches on Friday and two matches on Saturday. Check out our tournament central page for more information. Season tickets are available for Gamecock Volleyball for $25 each for adults and $10 each for youth.

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Gr8 behind the scenes.happy our team won the title and made it back home safe.

can't wait to read more behind the scenes and maybe pics in the future.

GOOO FIGHTING GAMECOCKS !!!!!!!!!

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