Photo Courtesy of NDSU Athletics
While she’s an ocean away from her hometown of Siauliai, Lithuania, Erika Gelzinyte’s dream of attending college in the United States feels a little like home in Fargo.
“I came here basically just for college,” said Gelzinyte. “I wasn’t considering anything else, I was like, United States it is, so it has always been a dream. I’m living the dream now.”
Transferring from Columbus State University in Georgia, where she topped the team in points both years she was there, the senior outside hitter found a home-away-from-home farther north after visiting NDSU’s campus in the middle February. As she became acquainted with the area, Gelzinyte was enthusiastic about sharing the history of her northern home-city, the fourth largest in Lithuania.
“A lot of people don’t know Lithuania and my city,” said Gelzinyte. “Some people might know the capital but that’s about it. So I do try to introduce it to them a little bit. I really like talking about it, if they’re curious to know more, I’ll definitely tell them more.”
Coming from a high school in Lithuania where all sports were played outside of school, Gelzinyte has adapted well to a fully integrated student-athlete experience, both scoring on the court and excelling in the classroom. In addition to being named to the 2017 Summit League Honor Roll, she’s made a total of 227 kills this season, already doubling her stats from last season.
Before Senior Night, Gelzinyte got the surprise of a lifetime. Her mother, Marina Gelziniene, from an ocean away to see her daughter’s last match at the Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse. Watch the video below to see the surprise. Make sure you grab some tissues.
— NDSU Volleyball (@NDSUvolleyball) October 31, 2017
Q&A With Erika Gelzinyte
How is volleyball here different from the game in Lithuania?
Erika Gelzinyte: “The whole understanding of the game, the coaches and the staff. First of all, the budget here is so much bigger than what we would have in our country. I think that definitely has a big influence on the tournaments we play in, and the qualification of the coaches. Here the coaches know so much and have played in college. When I moved here for college, I learned so much about volleyball that I never had an idea of when I was playing in Lithuania.”
What was your first experience like in Fargo?
EG: “The first time I came to Fargo was on my official visit. It was in February, and it was so cold, but I kind of expected that. Whenever I told someone I was going to North Dakota, they said, ‘Are you kidding, why would you ever trade Georgia for North Dakota?’ but the south just wasn’t for me and I was looking for something more like home, four seasons and stuff like that.
“Fargo really was a better fit for me in that way. When I came here, I really liked it. I like the cold so I didn’t mind that and the people seemed to be really nice. The staff basically took my breath away here. Everyone starting from the academic staff, and they actually wanted me to be successful. At that moment, it just seemed perfect for me.”
Was there any culture shock moving to Fargo from Georgia or was it easier than moving from Lithuania?
EG: “There was a little bit but it wasn’t as long. Everything here reminds me more of home, instead of Georgia, which was completely different, starting with the weather and the way people were. It was definitely nothing compared to my first time leaving home. North Dakota just seems familiar.”
When did you start playing volleyball?
EG: “I was really young when I started playing volleyball. I think I was 11. I actually danced for seven years prior to that, and I didn’t really enjoy it as much anymore. My mom said, ‘You’re not going to sit at home and do nothing, so you have to find something or continue dancing,’ because that was a rule in my family. Someone offered for me to go and try volleyball. I was always tall, so I tried it, and it was the first love of my life.”
Now that you’re playing for the Bison, what’s the team dynamic like? How much do you compete with fellow outside hitter McKenzie Burke?
EG: “It is a competition. We are teammates and we get along so well, but we do challenge each other in practice. You always want to do better than the other player in your position, but I think it’s healthy. We play together well, and we actually give positive feedback or if something isn’t working, we explain to each other why instead of just telling them to fix it. ‘Kenzie definitely pushes me to be better and she’s one of those players that brings something different to the court. I think she’s really quick. I might be a little bit slower, but I have more pace on the ball, and then she’s crisper with her movements.”
As the newest of four total seniors this season, what’s your role in the team’s leadership?
EG: “This year, we have a great group of freshmen, and I think they mesh really well with the upperclassmen. Sometimes, I think we forget that we’re the upperclassmen, but for the most part, people look up to our seniors. If we have energy, they feed off of us, so that’s always a nice thing, but definitely this year, the people on our team are good followers.”