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Good athletes, good students, and good people

Elena Baka talks about volleyball, but also about what universities in the US ask from their student-athletes.

At the age of only 17 she made the big decision to move to the US and pursue her academic and athletic career in a good university.

Elena Baka wanted to not only find a university to study and play volleyball, but was looking for the ideal fit that would give her the opportunity to also play beach volleyball, which is her other big passion.

And she found it in California, at Saint Mary's College.

She was born in Thessaloniki on 10/15/2001 and played for Aris Thessaloniki, with whom she won the Under 15, Under 17, and Under 19 National Championships. She was named the MVP of the Under 17 National Championship in 2018.

From the first few months on the St. Mary’s team, she has already earned a starting spot, as well as an individual award, her first career "Student-Athlete of the Week" for the West Coast Conference, while also impressing with her performances, having 141.5 points (126 kills, 104 digs, 7 aces) in 49 sets.

Elena Baka talks to NOMOS press office about her experience in the US so far.

What is it that has impressed you the most in the US?
"The ongoing and busy schedule we have. It has been full of classes, workouts, weights, rallies, team meetings, etc. My everyday life is very different compared to the one in Greece. We wake up early in the morning but also go to sleep early. There is no break in the middle of the day to rest. The day is going by fast, with a busy schedule. This way of life is very different from what I am used to, as a Greek woman!"

In volleyball and in general was there anything you expected differently?
"In volleyball many things are very different. We focus on different things in Greece because of our different ‘’athletic culture’’, the speed of the game here is much faster and at some points we use different techniques."

How difficult is it to be good at academics and volleyball? Is it true that you should have good grades to be eligible to play?
"It's hard to be good at both volleyball and academics and it is impossible to make it happen without the right schedule. Without that, you are going to ‘drop the ball very quickly’ if your university requires you to be good at both. It takes patience and perseverance. Goals and good planning of each day. Whether you play does not always have to do with classes. I think it depends on the university and the coach you have."

Is there free time and if so how do you spend it? What is the treatment of Greek volleyball players?
"There is free time but mainly on weekends. In my daily life it is scarce. I prefer to spend my free time talking with my family and friends on the phone. I also prefer to spend my free time with my teammates off the court. The university's treatment of Greek women and international players in general is very good. All the coaching staff, my teammates, and the people I meet in general are very kind and friendly."

What is the level of the team and the league? Are you happy with this year's record so far?
"The conference we play at is the WCC (West Coast Conference) and it is one of the most competitive conferences, and so is my team. Our goals are high every year. To win the WCC title. Currently the games we have played are pre-season and exhibition games. We didn't do as well as we would like but we are definitely on track. Our championship started last week and we will try our best!"

Impressive start with great performances and an individual award. Did you expect such a beginning?
"I give my best every time I play and will continue to do so. I have worked very hard to achieve my dream. I hope this is the start for even more titles, team and individual!"

Is there support from the university? At what level? Is there pressure?
"There is a lot of support from the university in all areas. There is good pressure I would say in being good athletes, good students, and good people."

What do you miss most about Greece? What are your future goals?
“I've been away for a long time and I miss a lot of things every day, both small and big things. But overall I miss my life there. There are definitely some notable people that I miss very much like my family, my friends, and some really important people for me."

Will you go back to Europe after your studies? Would you return to the Greek Championship and if so, under what conditions?
“My future goals are to do the best I can during these years when I am in college. Athletically and academically. Then I will think about either playing professional volleyball or beach volleyball. I have no definite plans after graduating, so I still don't know whether I will go back to Europe or not. Maybe I will be back in the Greek championship after graduating if I decide to play volleyball professionally. Surely conditions ought to be good enough and competitive."

It is well known that Beach Volleyball is a passion for you. How were your summer experiences and where do you want to get to in this sport?
"Yes that's the truth, Beach Volleyball is a special love for me. This summer's experiences were pretty good. My teammate is Maria Klepkou, and by the end of the season we were definitely thinking the same thing. We wish we had done better in the Greek championship, but we are very pleased and happy with the success we have had in Europe with our coach Thodoris Papadimitriou."

Which one would you choose between beach volleyball and volleyball?
"This question remains unanswered. One factor that will determine my decision in the future is definitely which of the two can be more successful after I finish college. "

How much has NOMOS helped you in this "adventure"?
“NOMOS has helped me tremendously from the first moment, and I continue to enjoy their support. I would like to thank the company, and in particular Mr. Tassos Kaburakis, as well as his wife Kristin Folkl, for their invaluable help and for being by my side with every need and they continue to be here for me always. Thank you for everything!"

In closing, Elena Baka emphasized:
"I would also like to thank some specific people. Initially the people who stood by me and supported me every minute of my life, in the difficult and the easy moments: my parents! I would also like to say a big thank you to my coach Georgios Nazopoulos for all the knowledge and training hours he has provided me. I owe it to him that I have succeeded so far. He has been by my side from the beginning and is still by my side, every moment. Without him, I would not have succeeded. Thank you very much for everything coach!"

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