Playing a volleyball match inside San Jose, Costa Rica’s Gimnasio Nacional, Valencia resident Mason Briggs kept hearing trucks passing outside the stadium, horns blowing. Or so he thought.
“When we played in the bigger matches against Puerto Rico they had air horns, a lot of the fans there,” Briggs said. “They had air horns, which are not illegal, and you can blow them throughout the rally. It was pretty much a truck horn blowing during the rally.”
Deafening fan noise was just one of the challenges Briggs had to deal with in his first-ever international tournament, the NORCECA U19 Men’s Continental Championship, which took place from June 4 to June 11.
Briggs, who plays for Alemany and Legacy Volleyball, was part of a USA team that reached the tournament finals, where they lost to Cuba 3-0.
Prior to that, USA opened up the tournament with back-to-back sweeps of Guatemala and Honduras. The team then lost to Cuba and went on to sweep Nicaragua and Puerto Rico before facing Cuba again in the championship game.
“It’s a different game when you’re playing against the best players of their country or their region,” Briggs said. “So you really experience some high-level play in international volleyball for the first time.”
Since Team USA was runner-up in the Continental Championships, they now qualify for the 2019 FIVB World Championships.
To make Team USA, Briggs was first named to the Youth National Training Team, a 20-person roster, then had to compete against one other libero to secure a spot on the final 12-person roster. He knew most of the other players due to previous experience with USA volleyball, which only intensified the competition.
He started training with the group of 20, which consisted of players from around the country, on May 25, then made the cut for the final team on June 2. After two days of training, it was off to Costa Rica.
“It was really a big relief and just kind of achieving one of my longtime goals that I’ve pretty much had my whole volleyball career and it actually finally came true was pretty amazing,” Briggs said of making the team.
Not only were the Continental Championships Briggs’ first international event, it was also his first time outside the United States in general.
Team doctors had to test the drinking water before clearing it for the team to consume and just about every meal consisted of rice, chicken and bread. The gym the tournament was played in was half open-air, which allowed for some winged and feathered spectators.
“It was very eye-opening when we got here,” he said. “Things were different. There’s no tall big skyscrapers or roads like we have, it’s more crazy and just different from what you’re expecting.”
The teams Briggs played spoke only in Spanish on the court, making it difficult for him to predict the opposition’s game plan. Only two referees spoke English, so hand gestures became very important when making calls.
Nevertheless, Briggs befriended the competition off the court and still communicates with some of the players.
“You’re used to playing against the same teams here and you know all the teams here,” he said. “But you go there you’re playing the best of where they’re from, so that’s the only way you connect.”