Thunshelle, Nelson represent Dakota Thunder in volleyball competition in Croatia

Submitted Photo The U17 North Country volleyball team in Croatia, featuring Dakota Thunder club players Indee Sue Thunshelle (furthest left) and Michaela Nelson (back left).

Nearly 5,000 miles from home, Indee Sue Thunshelle and Michaela Nelson were understandably nervous about being outside of their comfort zone in a foreign country.

All that built up tension was released when they got to meet their new teammates and take to the volleyball courts for the 14th annual Global Challenge in Pula, Croatia.

“I was really nervous to get here and meet everybody, and the first day when we got here — seeing all the teams practicing and how good they were — I didn’t think I was supposed to be here,” Thunshelle said. “But, it’s starting to all mold together and I’m feeling good right now.”

The five-day U17 and U23 volleyball tournament features teams and players from across the globe.

Thunshelle, a sophomore at Des Lacs-Burlington this coming fall, and Nelson, a soon-to-be junior at Minot High School, were selected out of the Dakota Thunder Volleyball Club and are playing with the U17 North Country regional team.

Bonding and getting to know their teammates over the last few days has been an adventurous challenge with a trip to the beach and a bobsled experience. Eating meals together and playing cards have also transcended a slight language barrier.

“Hanging out with our Slovenian teammates is fun because they try to teach us Slovenian language and the way they speak is different, so it’s been cool to try and learn that,” said Nelson, a 5-foot-7 middle blocker.

Adjusting to the international aspect of the tournament also involves taking in the new scenery. Croatia, currently riding a wave of nationalistic pride with national men’s soccer team in the World Cup semifinals, hasn’t disappointed.

“It’s very mountainous, so there’s lots of hills to walk up, which gets tiring,” Nelson said. “But, it’s really pretty and wonderful.”

Getting to play on a bigger stage can only help the girls improve both on and off the court.

“It’s a really good experience to just play different teams that are probably way better than the ones I’ll ever play in the United States,” Thunshelle said. “And I get to see everything and learning about other cultures and how different they live over here.”

While the anxiety of fitting in caused some pre-game jitters, the duo has now adjusted to the new environment and the seven-hour time change.

“They’re really intimidated right now. One of the moms even texted me to tell me that,” Dakota Thunder Director Joyce San Nicolas said prior to the team playing its first game. “But, once the girls get out there on the court, the game is on and everything that they’ve learned from high school and club is just going to shine through.”

International rules prevent liberos like Thunshelle from serving and there are some other minor rule changes. But, at the end of the day, the sport remains the same — volleyball is volleyball, no matter where it’s being played.

“When you come from a smaller town, it’s kind of hard for you to wrap your mind around that you can compete with girls from other states,” San Nicolas said. “Sometimes we find at the club level that they have this thought in their head that they can’t compete and are like, ‘maybe I don’t want to play in college because I don’t know if I can make it.’

“Well, that’s not true. It’s based off of hard work. All of our girls work hard, but these two have shown the dedication and opened their mind to the thought that they could actually do this.”

The Global Challenge is being held from July 9 through July 13. Results and more info can be found at bringitusa.com/gc2018.

Alex Eisen covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.

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