Karakasi: I compete and study at a high level
1. Elena, what inspired you to come to the United States and play volleyball? Why USA?
The main reason why I decided to come to the United States and play volleyball was the opportunity that I was given to play the sport that I love and complete my studies at a high level. Unfortunately, with the way the education system in Greece is structured, in order to succeed you usually have to let go one of these two. I wanted both of them.
I believe that my inspiration was the American setter Kristin Carpenter (NCAA champion), who I was lucky enough to have as a teammate. I was 14 years old and she was a young well trained athlete, with a great technique and athletic morals. I couldn’t ask for a better role model and actually admiring her every day during practice.
2. What were some of your concerns and expectations regarding college sports in the USA? What criteria determined the choice of your university?
My biggest concern regarding college sports in the USA was how easy and fast would I be able to cope with such a busy and demanding schedule while adjusting myself to a new way of life in a different country. However, I was so excited for this new start, that all I had in mind was positive thoughts and that everything was going to be fine. The reason why I chose the University of Syracuse is because it gave me the opportunity to study and compete at a high level. The subject of study I wanted to pursue was another important criteria for my choice, since the nutrition program in Syracuse is really good. ACC, the conference we are in, is in the top 5 conferences in the country, both in volleyball and athletes’ academic performances. Another key reason was coach Leonid Yelin, an experienced coach, connoisseur of European volleyball, who expressed a strong interest in me joining his team from the beginning of our discussions and in fact with an early commitment. Also, important was the fact that several international athletes already played in the team, so we had a lot in common. Finally, in my official visit I realized that there are a lot of people (coaches, professors, advisors and other staff) who are working together in order to support students in all the challenges that arise in our classes, our sports teams, but even in our psychology.
3. When did you start the university search process, are you happy with your decision, do you have any stories to share that scared you from this experience, something that you will remember forever?
I started the university search process at the beginning of 11th grade. I am a person who works better and calmer when I have a plan, that’s why I wanted to see my potential and the options I would have early on, so in case I did not have a positive result to focus on the national exams. After two and a half years at Syracuse and having gained experience from what I have seen and learned about America, I can say that I am very happy with my choice. I was also positively impressed by the fact that my coach came to see me at the European Championships in the Netherlands, where we were with the junior national team, although at that time face-to-face communication was not allowed by NCAA regulations.
One thing I will remember forever was the moment I got on the plane and my first thought was: "Where am I going now?". I think that was the moment when I realized that a new chapter was beginning for me, that even though it seemed difficult to me then, I was ready to face any challenge, to grasp every opportunity and enjoy it.
4. What advice would you give to athletes who are thinking of following a path similar to yours? What do you have to say to parents and athletes who are considering starting this journey?
I believe that the journey is not so difficult for someone who really wants it. But in order to succeed, one needs to stay focused on the path and the goal one has set and have an immediate reaction to the requirements of the process. In order to be able to cope with the difficulties one will face, either in the process as a candidate, or in the course of one’s career as a student-athlete, one must be sure that it is one’s personal choice and he/she will support it with all his/her strength. Definitely, getting a scholarship to an American university is a huge achievement. But this does not mean that everything fits, since each of us has different desires.
I would like to say to the parents of the athletes that, although it is difficult to leave your family, the experience and the horizons that it opens are so great that it is worth it. As an only child, it was even harder for my parents. That’s why I feel great gratitude that they supported my dream, did everything they could to help me achieve it, are close to me in everything I need and support all my choices.
5. Last year you made the decision of not returning to Greece for vacation but stayed in the United States. How did you take advantage of this decision academically and competitively? What are your plans for the future and where do you dream to see yourself after your studies?
Last year I chose not to return to Greece. The choice not to see my parents for about a year and not go away on vacation in the sun and sea was really difficult. Last summer I decided to stay at Syracuse and take an important course to progress to my major. Nutrition is a demanding field and I want, since I have literally come to the other side of the world, to take advantage of all the opportunities given to me at the academic level. Simultaneously with my courses, I did daily strengthening and individual technique training. I saw a very big change in my strength, my jump and my physical condition, things that helped my performance a lot during the season and protected me from any injuries.
As for the future, I want to be able to complete the chapter of my studies here in America by obtaining a master's degree, to start my life after volleyball in the future. Also, I really want to continue to do what I love and play volleyball at a high level in Greece or in Europe.
6. The conference in which you play had competitive activity in the fall and you made great appearances. What are the team's goals for the future?
In the general context of the insecurity created by the coronavirus pandemic, until the last moment our participation in the college championship was doubtful. However, we were preparing during the summer and we were in good shape when our district decided to play a part of the league.
We did well, but I think we have even better prospects. We are a relatively new team, which means that the further we go the better we will bond, we have a good ambience between us and a great disposal for work. We have a lot of attacking options, which allows me to develop my game and play a lot from the center, especially this year. I am very happy that as a member of this team I work, improve and contribute to its good course. My coach and my teammates trust me, I take initiatives and I have worked and improved my offense a lot. This is something I like, because in addition to increasing my skills, it gives my team an offensive advantage.