"It was the experience of a lifetime, something I'll never forget," Payson High School junior Shea Hatch, said upon her return from Australia.
Hatch's eight-day visit Down Under began in mid-July when she boarded a jet at Los Angeles International airport bound for Sydney.
Along with Hatch were fellow members of the Arizona high school all-star volleyball team that was scheduled to play in the Parkroyal Down Under International Games. The two-day tournament pitted teams from around the United States, Australia and New Zealand against one another.
The Arizona stars, coached by Gilbert's Dina Finn, also sported two players from Oregon.
In the tournament, Arizona finished with a 15-3 record and fourth in the final standings.
Playing mostly setter, Hatch's duties were to handle the play-making chores for her all-star teammates.
One of the highlights of the tournament for Hatch was playing against international competition.
"We did well against them (Australia and New Zealand)," she said. "The only game we lost was to a college team Bond University."
Another plus for the Lady Longhorn sports star was the many new friends she made during the journey.
"I got to know my teammates really well and met some people that I would never have had the chance to know if I hadn't gone to Australia," she said.
Last spring, before Hatch decided to go on a fund-raising mission to earn the money it took to participate in the sports exchange, event sponsors promised her a memorable trip.
"Those who have participated in our past sports tours have had an unforgettable and life-changing experience," Parkroyal organizer George O'Scanlon said. "They see a part of the world that is truly fascinating while acting as ambassadors for America and the sporting traditions we love."
A series of fund-raising events that included a well-attended steak dinner in mid-May eventually helped generate the money Hatch needed to pay for her room, board and traveling expenses.
After landing in Sydney, one of the first visits on the team's itinerary was the site of the 2000 Olympics.
The players also took in the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbor. Next up was a trip to the Gold Coast in Queensland where they toured Sea World and O'Reilly's Tree Top Walkway.
Later in Brisbane, their cultural tour included stops at Surfer's Paradise beaches, the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary and the Baribuynma Aboriginal Cultural Center.
After four days of tournament games near the Gold Coast, the team returned to Sydney and then headed to Honolulu.
During four days on the beaches of Waikiki, Hatch and her teammates also visited the Polynesian Cultural Center, Diamond Head and snorkeled in the crystal clear waters of the Pacific Ocean.
The Waikiki beaches and surf captured Hatch's fascination.
"I just loved it there," she said. "It was my favorite part of the trip. I'm hoping I can go back sometime."
With school back in session, Hatch has returned to the Wilson dome volleyball court determined to help her Lady Longhorn team attain new heights this season.
While she struggles through pre-season practices, she secretly hopes her teammates might someday take up the challenge of international competition.
"It was a lifetime opportunity and so much fun, I think it should it be a goal of the (younger) players," she said. "Raising the money was hard, but it was all worth it."