ASHLAND, Ore. — Southern Oregon volleyball player Renee Yomtob learned to count to 20 in Portuguese from Pualla Pinheiro. Raiders’ coach Josh Rohlfing brought the Brazilian in largely because he wanted to expand the minds of his players.
“I knew that we were looking to bring in an international athlete that was going to help the program,” said Rohlfing, “give us some culture on the team as well as give us some culture within the university, to give our girls more world vision, to help them to understand that the game ties us.”
“A friend of mine came to me and said, ‘What do you think about coming to the United States to play volleyball?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, I think I can do that,’ and I didn’t know English or anything,” said Pinheiro.
As much information as Paulla passes on to her teammates, like counting to 20 in Portuguese, she learns from them in return.
“Sometimes I have to ask, ‘What does it mean?’ It’s just like, I don’t know, every day I have something to learn,” said Pinheiro.
The mutual learning extends to the volleyball court as well.
“She just flies around the court,” said Rohlfing. “She’s just different in that regard. The way she attacks the ball, it’s a little bit quicker than, maybe, in terms of her arm speed, it’s a little quicker than what we have.”
Just like the language and the culture, her play on the court also rubs off on her teammates.
“Within the first practice, after practice, I said, ‘Hey, did you see Paulla do blah-blah-blah?’ I said something to one of our liberos. She said, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m taking that,’ and a couple of them caught some things after the first week and they’ve all been using it,” said Rohlfing.
They’ve also been using Paulla to help the team win. She is top ten in the Cascade Conference in kills and service aces, despite a constant longing for home.
“I always feel homesick. It’s something that never goes away,” said Pinheiro. “So you kind of have to learn how to deal with it. There’s not much you can do. Like I can’t buy a ticket and go back home so, yeah, you have to get used to it.”
The Raiders are getting used to their international teammate.
“She has kind of a different air about how she goes about things, but that’s what we wanted,” said Yomtob. “That’s what we learn from and she learns from us, and so it’s been a good match.”
That good match has led to a good season, thanks to a little extra culture.