The Maneater

Tournament in Puerto Rico is a trip home for these two Missouri volleyball players

Ahead of this weekend’s Puerto Rico Invitational, Dariana Hollingsworth and Andrea Fuentes reflected on getting to play again in their hometown.

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Dariana Hollingsworth was 11 years old the first time she played volleyball in her native Puerto Rico. She hated it.

A bribe from her parents was the only reason she showed up at the next practice.

“I went to tryouts and I did completely horrible,” said Hollingsworth, now an MU sophomore. “So I said that I’m not coming back, and [my parents] said, ‘We will give you 10 dollars per practice, so if you don’t end up liking it we will pay you — but if you do end up liking it, we’ll pay you and you’ll have your sport.’”

Now Hollingsworth has her sport.

When Missouri volleyball travels to the Puerto Rico Invitational this weekend in the nation’s capital of San Juan, the Tigers will be focused on winning each of their three games against Xavier, Miami (Fla.), and Arizona State.

But for Hollingsworth and redshirt freshman Andrea Fuentes, it’s also a trip home. The pair are both native Puerto Ricans.

“I am very excited because usually I don't get to go back home until December,” Fuentes said.

The team will still be playing while the rest of the MU student body leaves for Thanksgiving break in November.

“It's going to be really refreshing,” Fuentes said.

Understandably, there is pressure surrounding playing in San Juan, but coach Wayne Kreklow has made certain his team keeps in mind that there is still a job to be done.

“It’s a big deal for those guys, for them to be over here playing; it's a big deal for all the Puerto Rican kids,” Kreklow said. “What they have to make sure they do is just play the game and not worry about whether or not they are impressing their friends and relatives, or living up to somebody else’s expectations. They just have to play.”

Both born and raised in San Juan, Fuentes and Hollingsworth came to Missouri to attend college and play volleyball. Now in their second years on campus, the pair is still adjusting to the culture on and off the court.

“American volleyball is more technical,” Hollingsworth said. “Back home, we don’t pay as much attention to detail. That’s something that’s rubbed off on me in a positive way.”

Demographically, Puerto Rico and Missouri could not be more different. Approximately 99 percent of Puerto Ricans are of Hispanic or Latino descent. On campus the same ethnic group makes up just 3.8 percent of the university’s 30,000 students.

“I think I'm pretty good with the language compared to other Puerto Ricans, but [the biggest change would] still be the language,” Fuentes said. “There's very few Spanish-speaking people here.”

Juan Cartagena, the former coach of Fuentes and Hollingsworth on the U20 Puerto Rican National Team, is saddened to not be in attendance for this weekend’s games due to a Fédération Internationale de Volleyball development trip in Uruguay.

“[I feel] very happy and proud,” Cartagena said. “Both have much to contribute to Mizzou and Puerto Rican volleyball.”

A transition of that magnitude is difficult and lonely, but the journey was eased if ever so slightly because the two Puerto Ricans came to campus as friends. In high school, Fuentes and Hollingsworth played together on the Puerto Rican U20 National Team. Now teammates at Missouri, that shared experience has only intensified their bond.

“Playing for the national team was something we experienced for the first time, and we did it together,” Fuentes said. “That's an experience that we shared, a struggle that we shared and the glory that we shared. [Hollingsworth] is the only person on the team who knows who I was back home and who I am now as a person. [She] has been through all of it. I think it’s made us a lot closer.”

Traveling to Puerto Rico with the rest of their Missouri team, Hollingsworth and Fuentes have the opportunity to showcase their hometown.

“Ever since I got here, [my teammates] have asked me a lot about home,” Fuentes said. “They've asked me a lot about Puerto Rico, a lot about my background, my history, my story, the culture. I always try and describe it as accurately as I can, but it’s really cool that they get to see that first-hand experience.”

Fuentes will also have the opportunity to reunite with Xavier outside hitter Laura Grossman. The two played volleyball together in elementary school in San Juan, before going their separate ways. Hollingsworth also competed against Grossman in high school.

Outside of volleyball, the team plans to explore Old San Juan, something Fuentes says is a must. The team also wants to go to the beach if time permits.

While there are nerves associated with playing at home, as the week progresses and the games get closer, Fuentes and Hollingsworth will prepare and get back to business as usual. That being said, the Puerto Ricans will have extra motivation.

“At the end of the day you want to make everyone back home proud,” Fuentes said. “You want them to know that you're carrying them around with pride and [representing] them and your home as best you can. All I can hope for is that [the Puerto Rican fans] look at Dariana and I and can be proud of us as players and as individuals.”

Edited by Bennett Durando | bdurando@themaneater.com

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