St. Francis Tandem Goes International Byrd, Virtue Take a Summer Tour with U. S. Junior National Squad

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Byline: Dave Miller Daily Herald Sports Writer

Katie Virtue got to put three years of Spanish lessons to use this summer.

Virtue and St. Francis teammate Erin Byrd made the junior national team and traveled out of the country for the first time to play in a tournament in Cuernavaca, Mexico in July.

Virtue spent much of the trip serving as an interpreter. She helped her teammates communicate with the clerks at the hotel, waiters in restaurants, people on the street and vendors in the markets.

"I think I had the most Spanish experience even though I felt bad because I spoke so slow because I don't speak it that much," Virtue said. "Everyone was like 'Katie, Katie, help me buy this.' Or 'Help me exchange my money.' I did a lot of that.

"It was really cool," added Virtue, who is taking a fourth year of Spanish at St. Francis. "I'm excited for this year because I realize I can actually use it now."

The St. Francis volleyball team is excited about the year, too, and you can be sure they will use Byrd and Virtue as much as possible. The Spartans will attempt to defend its Class A state championship led by its two junior national team players.

Byrd, a powerful 6-foot outside hitter, and Virtue, a versatile 5-foot-8 setter, were two of only 12 players in the country chosen to face international competition in Mexico.

As members of the Sports Performance Volleyball Club out of West Chicago, Byrd and Virtue were among 62 players invited to try out for the national team in Colorado Springs, Colo. They went through three-a-day sessions for three days in April, then flew home and waited for a letter to arrive informing them if they had made the team.

After a few anxious days of checking the mailbox, Byrd and Virtue each received a letter from USA Volleyball on the same day.

"I knew my tryout went well and I knew that I worked really hard and played well," Byrd said. "I got a lot of positive feedback from the coaches. I could tell they were looking at me, but I still wasn't sure. Then I came home and there was this big packet in the mail. I couldn't even open it, but when I did the first word was 'Congratulations.' "

"Of course I'd be disappointed if I didn't make it, but I thought it would be a good opportunity," Virtue said. "And when we got the letter I wasn't like shocked. I was more excited."

It was a whirlwind summer for the pair of Spartans.

After helping their Sports Performance teams to third place in the USA Junior National Volleyball Championships in Dallas, Texas, Byrd and Virtue came home for a couple days and left July 6 for Lake Placid, N.Y. to join the junior national team on an all-expense paid trip .

There they had to survive one more cut. The final roster was trimmed from 18 to 12 after two-and-a-half weeks of two-a-day practices in New York.

Finally, Byrd and Virtue and 10 others made the long trip to Mexico.

"It took about 14 hours of buses and planes and going through customs and sitting in airports," Byrd said. …