Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Gulce eager to play tour guide for Badgers
Native Turkey first stop on UW volleyball tour
MADISON – Excited and anxious. If you had to sum up Gulce Guctekin's state of mind in the days leading up to the University of Wisconsin volleyball team's four-country foreign tour, it would be the give and take of those similar yet conflicting feelings.
The sophomore can't wait to get home to Turkey for the first time since winter break, of course, but she is also feeling a little bit nervous.
“I want to make this trip really good,” she said. “I want to show them everywhere in Istanbul. I know Istanbul very well. I lived there for a long time.”
With almost two weeks of practice in preparation for the trip plus two more weeks of matches and workouts, foreign tours are considered great team-building experiences that can jump-start a team's development for the upcoming season.
The NCAA permits teams to have these trips once every four years. The last time Wisconsin went overseas, the experience helped the Badgers start a four-year run that included four Big Ten championships, three Final Four appearances, two national finals berths and a national championship.
This year the tour, which begins Friday and ends June 14, will serve as an unofficial starting point for a team that is expected to be among the nation's best again this season.
The majority of UW's work during will take place in Istanbul. The team will spend four days and play three matches in Turkey's largest city while also visiting historic spots such as the Bosporus Strait, Sultanahmet Square and the neighborhood of Uskudar.
“It will be good to compare our level to them and I'm excited for the food,” Guctekin said when asked about having an opportunity to go home. “There is a lot of delicious food. My teammates were asking me, ‘What should we eat?' I don't know. There are so many things and I want to try (and) eat all of them.”
Turkey offers the Badgers the opportunity to face high-level teams
When it came time to plan the tour, Turkey didn't just offer Wisconsin the chance to bring one of its players home, the country also offered the Badgers some of the best volleyball.
The country is home to some of the top professional teams in the world and in general offers a high level of play. At the end of this week and early into next, the country will host a series of Volleyball Women's Nations League matches, including three featuring the United States and former UW star Dana Rettke.
The Badgers, however, will be on the
MARK STEWART / MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL
other end of the country when those matches take place, taking in the sights and playing three matches in Istanbul. That stretch includes a contest against Guctekin's former club team, Fenerbahce.
The area is about a nine-hour drive from the part of the country that was hit with a massive earthquake in February (Guctekin used her platform to raise $40,000 to help relief efforts).
After Istanbul, Wisconsin will then spend three days in Slovenia, three in Italy and one in Switzerland before returning home.
UW coach Kelly Sheffield also considered traveling to Poland, junior Julia Orzol's homeland. Instead, her parents will visit the team during the trip.
“We talked to Julia about the possibility. Do we want to go down there? Do we want to go to Poland? Is there a way to do both and Julia was like you don't need to go to Poland,” Sheffield said. “We're all good. She wanted to explore other parts of Europe because when her teams used to go play different places they would just go and train and play and wouldn't see anything, so she is excited to see some things as well.”
Gulce Guctekin provided immediate impact as UW freshman
The last year has been a whirlwind for Guctekin. At this time last spring, she was training with Turkey's junior national team.
She didn't arrive in Madison until a few days after the start of camp but quickly filled a void left by departed All-American Lauren Barnes in the back row. Guctekin played in 29 of 32 matches as the starting libero – she missed three due to injury – and was twice named the Big Ten freshman of the week.
Guctekin ranked seventh in the Big Ten with 3.95 digs per set and reached double digits in digs 18 times. She also proved to be reliable at the service line, where she ranked third on the team with 33 aces.
Off the court, she balanced her responsibilities as an athlete with the challenge of studying in her second language while living almost 4,800 miles from home.
“I'm proud I kept pushing myself and learning myself new things,” she said.
In the coming days that she'll probably learn what it's like to be a de facto tour guide. On Monday, Guctekin stepped out of her normally reserved shell and gave the team a presentation about her country.
"G.G. was in front of the team yesterday just smiling from ear to ear as she's being able to tell them some of the things loves most about her country..." Sheffield said. "It was a power-point presentation and certainly probably a little out of her (comfort zone). Although she is talking about a subject she knows very well and she's very passionate about, I think getting in front of a room full of people and talking through that is something you typically don't do with a volleyball team, but she found her groove and you could tell she was having fun with it."