Julia Bergmann stands out. That starts with her height. At six-foot-five, she is the tallest player on Tech’s volleyball team by two inches. She is pursuing an uncommon major: physics. And in her first semester at Tech, as she balances college academics, social changes and life in a new country, she has been one of the team’s best contributors. Bergman has been the forefront of a resurgent Tech volleyball team, and was just named ACC co-Freshman of the Week after big games against Clemson and Virginia Tech earlier this week.
Competing in any sport at the NCAA level is no easy task, but if anyone is well-suited for the task, it is Bergmann. The sport runs in her blood. Both of her parents were volleyball players, and while neither competed professionally, she was introduced to the pursuit at a young age. “They always took me … to their tournaments, and I started playing in fifth grade. That’s when I really started to practice volleyball,” she said.
It was at this time when Bergmann was adjusting to her first major move: as a ten-year-old, she moved with her family from Germany to Brazil. While she knew no Portrugese, she was already fluent in another language of Brazil — volleyball. In just two years after she started practicing, she was playing in tournaments representing her city at a high level.
Soon after, Bergmann was selected to represent Brazil in competition. This, she says, is when she began to realize exactly how special her talent might be. “I was screaming around the house and jumping, I was so happy,” she remembers. “It was that I went to [the national team’s practice facility in Rio de Janeiro] … I couldn’t imagine that now I was playing for the national team.”
The success led Bergmann to change her routines. “I was a swimmer, so I used to swim and play volleyball. After I started playing national-level volleyball, I stopped swimming and just focused on my volleyball career,” she notes. The swimming has helped her to this day, though; she credits it with her excellent hand-eye coordination despite her height. A lack of coordination is the one pitfall for tall players, so Bergmann’s skills in this department distinguish her as an athlete.
Bergmann hesitates to pick a favorite moment from her youth career, but settles on a moment from her international history. “I had so many good matches,” she says. “But probably the year before last … we played the South America championship, and the final was a pretty memorable match. We played against Argentina and won.”
Prior to attending Tech, Bergmann had visited the United States just twice: once for a tournament at the University of Nebraska and once for her official visit to Tech. Adapting to the U.S., she says, has involved not only culture but also style of volleyball. The rules in the United States are slightly different, allowing more players to serve, and the ball can hit the ceiling without play stopping. The American game is also faster and more focused on defense.
But making the transition easier is the fact that Bergmann’s head coach and one of her teammates — Michelle Collier and Mariana Brambilla, respectively — are both Brazilian natives. “Oh, for sure,” she says when asked if it was useful to have teammates and coaches with Brazillian ties. “Especially Mariana. At the beginning, she was helping me so much.”
Bergmann has goals, not only for herself and her team but for the future state of her spot in her home country. “A lot of [states] don’t have enough investment, so it’s really hard for kids to travel to play in other places. Or they don’t even have money to buy shoes to play volleyball. So I think the bigger clubs — like professional ones — could give smaller volleyball projects more money or even visibility so that they can get more help.” As for her team’s progress, Bergmann is looking for an end on a high note. “We are practicing a lot and playing well, and if we keep this level up, then we have a good chance to win this conference.” With Bergmann on the court, Tech is giving that shot — the Jackets were 3-3 in conference play entering Friday.