Aumann, Zapryanova Have Already Made a Winning Connection
Aug. 20, 2012
A few weeks after Aumann helped Auburn transfer Zapryanova get her Demon Express card in June, Rachel whisked the Bulgarian-born outside hitter off to her home in Racine, Wis.
That's where the outgoing Zapryanova received a genuine Wisconsin welcome from Rachel's mom Dottie Aumann, who bought her guest a T-shirt that Vesela wears constantly.
"I have three sisters and lots of adopted sisters," Rachel Aumann said with a smile.
Aumann took Zapryanova to nearby Fond du Lac to meet Uncle B.J. and Aunt Darcie Trepanier along with their three horses, two dogs and four kittens. Rachel's grandmother Elda Rust made certain to stop by and greet Aumann's newest friend.
That memorable weekend in July also included competing in the Waupaca Boatride Volleyball Tournament in Oshkosh, Wis.--- the world's largest outdoor volleyball tournament.
The pair of Blue Demons along with Aumann's former club volleyball teammate who now plays at Marquette teamed up for the Open Division three-on-three event. After pool play, Aumann & Co. were matched up against the three-time defending champion.
The DePaul-Marquette triumvirate battled to a 21-18 loss in the first set and then dropped the second one.
"I had never played in an outdoor tournament on grass, and I was really excited to see all the cars parked everywhere and people camping out with sleeping bags," Zapryanova said. "It was on a huge field with so many courts.
"There were so many people playing on the 200 courts. We got a chance to hang out and socialize with other players."
Beach volleyball star Misty May-Treanor put on a couple of clinics at the event before leaving for the London 2012 Summer Olympics where she would win a gold medal. Nearly 1,000 teams competed in the July 11-15 tournament with some coming from as far away as China, Australia, Germany and Chile.
Zapryanova made her way from Sofia, Bulgaria to Auburn after then-Tigers volleyball coach Wade Benson saw her at a tournament.
"It was a big cultural shock going to a small town like Auburn, Ala.," Zapryanova said. "My parents encouraged me to accept the scholarship and see what it was like for at least one year.
"My first year at Auburn, I didn't speak much English. There was no one from Bulgaria there. It would take me one hour to translate a paragraph. I wish I had known about Google Translate. The secondary language test I had to take to compete in the NCAA---I took it four times in two days before I finally passed.
"But I learned pretty quickly. After that, it was like an epiphany, and now I can't stop talking."
Zapryanova helped Auburn advance to its first NCAA tournament appearance as a freshman.
"It was a great experience, just amazing," she said. "We had a new coach my sophomore season. We didn't do as well and I felt it was no longer my place there.
"I started looking for schools, and I wanted to be in a bigger city. International students need to find a job to stay in the USA. DePaul is one of the greatest schools in the whole country with all the internships and the alumni willing to help you.
"I could see that DePaul was trying to build up its program and I wanted to be a part of the new era. I knew DePaul was bringing in some new faces (seven newcomers).
"Memphis, St. John's and George Washington were the other schools I considered. I ended up choosing DePaul over Memphis . My uncle lives here, and there is a large Bulgarian population in Chicago."
DePaul volleyball coach Nadia Edwards is anticipating contributions from her newcomers when the Blue Demons open their season Friday night against Eastern Illinois in the DePaul Invitational at McGrath-Phillips Arena.
"Our returning players led by senior Rachel Aumann are strong and healthy, and the five freshmen and two transfers are the biggest incoming class I've had at DePaul," Edwards said. "They come from good high school, club and college programs and will help us with their winning experience. They've all got great personalities.
"As we look to turn the corner, the newcomers will help to keep us competitive in this area and in the BIG EAST Conference. These seven players are going to give us the chance we're looking for."
Aumann said she felt an instant culture change when Edwards took over in 2010.
"The biggest change is the level of competition," Aumann said. "In the past, people had their positions and that was pretty much it.
"This year, people are competing for their spots. There are players who can play almost every position, and that's making it more competitive in practice.
"This is my senior year, and I'd like to go out on a strong note. I want to play with athletes who want to win. After watching Vesela play, I have confidence in her. We are going to hold people accountable."
Zapryanova nodded in agreement.
"You have to fight for your starting spot, and then fight to keep it," she said. "There's a lot of passion, too. At our games during volleyball camp, there were some big rallies and everyone was into it.
"I've always been very competitive. Rachel and I are the oldest on the team, and we'll try to push everyone. I'm not going to put up with people not willing to give 100 percent. That's not happening this year. I'm not going to let it happen."
Edwards realizes infusing the Blue Demon program with some of the attributes ingrained into her when she played at NCAA powerhouse Penn State requires patience.
"Turning around a program is not as easy as people think," Edwards said. "It can be difficult at times, but we aren't looking for a temporary quick fix. We want this to last for a while.
"With that in mind, I recruit the type of athlete who is a go-getter and wants to be in the forefront of putting this program back on the map.
"When I played at Penn State, I learned that it all comes down to a blue-collar mentality, always focusing on the process---and that was our formula for winning."
Edwards would love to see her team come together as quickly as Aumann and Zapryanova. "It's because I talk so much and Rachel is so quiet," Zapryanova said with a laugh. "She is so calm and laid-back, and I'm just the opposite. She listens to me, and I just keep talking.
"In the open gyms, we had a good connection blocking and working together on the court. We always played on the same team in the open gyms, and we usually beat everyone else."