Samantha Seliger-Swenson shared setting duties with Madison Lilley in the 2019 Pan-Am Games. The volleyball competition concluded Aug. 10 in Lima, Peru, and the U.S. team had to defeat Canada to finish seventh.
Triple S, as she’s known here, then went to Colorado Springs for the NORCECA Champions Cup. She was the starting setter for a U.S. team that went 3-0 to sweep the round-robin event that concluded on Aug. 24.
The competition against the best in the Western Hemisphere led to Seliger-Swenson being a couple of weeks late for the start of practice with the Beziers Angels, a pro team in France’s Ligue A Feminine (LAF).
“Most of my teammates were in Beziers in the middle of August,” she said. “I didn’t get there until September 1.”
So you missed it? “Yes, but all the players that were here said it was insane,” she said.
The insanity surrounded the Feria, a Beziers celebration that dates to 1897. It takes place in August, draws a million people to a city of 75,000 and is centered around bullfighting.
The Beziers tourism department describes it thusly: “The heart of the Feria is the arènes — the arena with its prestigious bullfights. And when the Corrida [bullfight] is over, the party envelops the town with spectacular events … and parties until dawn where flamenco sets Béziers alight!”
Sounds like fun, unless you’re the bull.
“I don’t think you would’ve found me at the bullfighting,” Seliger-Swenson said. “It would’ve been interesting to see the partying in the streets.”
Beziers is in southern France, 6 miles from the Mediterranean on The Orb (river). The Angels are a well-established organization in a 12-team league. And the only limit on outside players is that one French player must be on the court at all times.
“Samantha has traveled quite a bit, but for much shorter stays,” mom Vicki Seliger said. “This was different. She was starting a pro career in a different country, and she was going to be gone for months.”
Vicki paused and said: “I knew she would be OK, though, because she would be with players that she knew. Sam played junior volleyball with Alexa Smith. And Ali Bastianelli from Illinois, another Big Ten player, was there. Sam would have them to help with the adjustment.”
Mom discovered the thoroughness of that adjustment when making a visit to Beziers that started Feb. 24.
“I was driving a little Euro car, slowed down at an intersection, and signaled a turn,” Vicki said. “Samantha laughed and said, ‘We don’t do that here, Mom.’ ”
Getting used to France’s high-strung drivers was much less of an adjustment for Seliger-Swenson than it was with high-strung coaching.
One reason for that is Hugh McCutcheon, her Gophers coach, is as composed as you’re going to find. And the other reason is, well, it’s France, where composure isn’t a virtue.
Fabien Simondet was in his second season as the Angels coach. Well-respected and knowledgeable, without a doubt, Seliger-Swenson said. And?
“Different than Hugh, that’s for sure,” she said. “With Hugh, it was always about the process. How do we get better? How do we win the next point? With [Simondet], if there was a mistake in practice, or a point lost, you heard about it. That’s the way it seems to be with coaches in Europe. They run on emotions over there.”
Vicki Seliger said there wasn’t heavy conversation about the coronavirus in that part of France in late February. She did notice a smaller crowd for an Angels match in Cannes and was told people were starting to stay home.
Seliger-Swenson was on the court most of the time, with Kellya Fabrino, a veteran from Brazil, serving as backup. Five teams were bunched near the top, with the Angels tied for fourth. They also had reached the semifinals of the Challenge Cup, part of Europe’s club championships.
Then the virus took over. The season was shut down two weekends ago. Samantha is home in Minnetonka, with Mom, Dad, three younger volleyball-playing sisters, and reunited with Zeus, a Labradoodle.
“I’d call it an excellent experience,” Seliger-Swenson said. “I’m not opposed to going back, but there could be other opportunities. And with the virus, there’s nothing certain.”
One certainty would seem to be an eventual sit-down with McCutcheon for a bit of process conversation.
“In a lot of situations, I found myself thinking, ‘What would Hugh say to me right now?’ ” Triple S said. “As a coach and person, he changed my life emotionally, mentally and physically.”
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