Exchanging Excellence: Dutch student makes winning connections on champion team

After living in the United States for just a few short months, Fleur Disselhorst has been a part of something many American high schoolers would only dream of: a state championship team.

Disselhorst, a senior at Cedar Falls High School, is also a foreign exchange student from the Netherlands. A small village called Heino, located in the east of the Netherlands, is where Disselhorst calls home.

“I started playing volleyball at the age of six,” Disselhorst said. “The main difference with the volleyball here and in the Netherlands is that in the Netherlands we don’t have school volleyball, only club volleyball.”

After hearing from her host parents about Cedar Falls’ successful volleyball program led by head coach Matt Johnson, Disselhorst joined the team to make some new friends before the school year started. “One of my biggest surprises when I came to play here was the amount of really good players [Cedar Falls] had. When I saw everyone playing during the first practice, I was so amazed,” Disselhorst said.

When practice began, Disselhorst was intimidated by the sheer amount of talent on her new team. “All the girls were so good, so I had a lot of catching up to do with them,” Disselhorst said. “On the first day of practice, I walked into a place where I didn’t know anyone, and I just hoped people were nice. It really was a bit scary for me, and I was super nervous.”

However, Disselhorst’s newcomer-nerves were soon soothed by her new teammates as they sparked up conversations and made her feel comfortable as a part of the team.

“They taught me a lot of new things, not only volleyball, but some social things,” Disselhorst said of her time with her teammates. “These girls helped me with everything, and I’m really thankful for that. Of course, I love to play volleyball, but I would not be the same without these girls.”

As the season began, Disselhorst was pleasantly surprised with the differences between volleyball in Heino and volleyball in Cedar Falls. “What I really like here is our student section,” Disselhorst said. “Back home, my parents would come cheer me on during a game, maybe even my grandparents, but that would be it.”

While the game itself is not that different from Disselhorst’s norm, there are a few rules. In the Netherlands, teams cannot swap players more than three times a set, so front row players play back row as well.

As the team began to pick up momentum, sweeping team after team, Disselhorst was confused by the murmurs of the state championship, which Cedar Falls seemed to be in a good position to grab.

“At first I had no clue what the whole ‘State’ thing was about and why everyone was so excited about it,” Disselhorst said. “At that point everyone showed me pictures of last year and videos of them walking out of the smoke on the court. At that point I started to realize how cool it was that we were going to State, but I could still not exactly get it.”

The qualification was fun in its own, though, and Disselhorst was confident that her teammates would be successful.  “I had no idea how all these girls could play with so many girls around them,” Disselhorst said. “I remember stepping in for a few points, and my heartbeat would rise because I was so afraid to make a mistake.”

Just as Disselhorst expected, she and the rest of the Tigers were able to easily make their way to the state tournament. What she did not expect, however, was the sheer energy within the U.S. Cellular Center.

“That moment when we arrived at the state championship, I knew where all the excitement came from, because, wow, was it big there,” Disselhorst said.

As Cedar Falls marched its way through wins at the tournament, Disselhorst was anything but surprised, citing confidence in her teammates’ abilities.

“I can’t describe how amazing every point felt that we won. The first two games I really expected them to win because I saw how good all these girls are, and I just believed in them that they could do it,” Disselhorst said. “The last game was amazing too, I had no clue what to expect for this game, but I still had my trust in them that they could do it, and they did.”

Disselhorst was also thankful to the students of her new school for the support of the team. “When I saw our student section, I was so surprised again. How nice it is that all these students come to cheer on the team.”

After the domination of the Des Moines Valley Tigers in the championship match, the Cedar Falls Tigers were finally given what they had been after for years: the first Cedar Falls volleyball state championship.

“The feeling that I’m part of a team that won state championships is amazing. I think the girls really deserved it to win,” Disselhorst said. “They are amazing players, but not only that, they are amazing  people too. Finally we’ve got the title, and I’m thankful that I could be part of this. I could not have a better beginning of my exchange year.”

As for the friendships she made on the team, Disselhorst said she knows they will outlast the volleyball season. “I met a lot of new people, and I already made friends for a lifetime.” Disselhorst said. “We did a lot of team bonding activities, and that made me really close with the group, and I felt like they accepted me in their group although I’m slightly different.”

Disselhorst said she’s so glad she found a place on the team. “I think joining the volleyball team was the best decision I have made so far on my exchange,” Disselhorst said. “If I wouldn’t have been playing volleyball, I think that I would have a lot of struggles, and my life in the U.S. would never be as fun as that it is now.”

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