TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Eva Borrowdale’s 4,263-mile journey to The University of Alabama involved far more layovers than the typical collegiate athlete.
Her path was unconventional, but one that has led to stops across Europe and now, thanks to new Lindsey Devine and Crimson Tide volleyball team, one that will take her across the United States.
The graduate transfer from Sheffield, England was first introduced to the game she would later fall in love with by a friend’s father who was a volleyball coach in the area. Borrowdale, who was already involved with three sports including lacrosse and horseback riding, accepted the invitation to attend a few sessions.
“It was incredibly competitive, and it had a space for my body type as well,” Borrowdale said. “I had a really good group of friends and always had a really good time at practice. I went and had a few sessions and really enjoyed it. As the years progressed, I started dropping all the other sports and volleyball became the main one.”
Volleyball is not a widely played sport across the UK. Historically, netball, which is like basketball without a backboard or dribbling, is the most predominantly played sport among female athletes. For Borrowdale, the speed of the game and the competitiveness that volleyball allowed was far more interesting than the slower-paced netball.
Borrowdale attended Sheffield Hallam University for her undergraduate degree. During her time there, her team moved up two leagues to the top in the country.
Personally, Borrowdale was named the Sheffield Hallam University’s Sports Woman of the Year in 2016-17. She also competed for England’s U14, U16, U18, and U23 national teams, often playing in higher age divisions. These opportunities provided Borrowdale with the platform to test her abilities amongst the best in Europe.
After finishing her three years at Sheffield Hallam, Borrowdale was not ready for her career to be over. After having conversations with a number of coaches and former players, Borrowdale realized that she had another year of eligibility that would allow her to continue her career at a university in the states.
The decision to leave the community and country you’ve known your entire life in pursuit of a dream might be a difficult one for many to make, but for Borrowdale and her family, it was nothing new.
“My family has always been very supportive,” Borrowdale said. “I have two brothers who play professional rugby in England. My oldest brother moved out when he was 14 and my little brother moved out when he was 18. Everyone has moved away and a lot of my friends who were at uni have already finished or are doing other things. So apart from my family, there’s not really anything for me in Sheffield anymore.”
Since arriving in Tuscaloosa, Borrowdale has proven herself to be a dominant outside hitter for Devine’s new Crimson Tide team. Her physical attributes set her apart from most outside hitters in the SEC and have enabled her to often times be successful when up against traditionally smaller opponents.
“She’s tall, she’s very strong, and she’s pretty athletic,” Devine said. “So all of those things together have positioned her to be a valuable weapon in the front row for us. Some of her shots she’s able to hit thumb down and hit at the three-foot line. To date she has shown us many opportunities where her athleticism and her power are able to score for us.”
To separate herself as a dominant outside hitter, Borrowdale is required to not only attack effectively to score, but is also asked to step into the back row defensively where passing is key.
“We get pretty much everything,” fellow outside hitter and senior Ginger Perinar said. “So an outside needs to be well rounded, you have to work to stay aggressive when things aren’t going well and keep composure as well. You’re one of those players who is always going to be on the court, you’re very involved. You have to try and keep everyone together.”
Having the ability to perform at the highest level is only half the battle when it comes to being a student-athlete. Acclimating to life in the states, in the south, and in an American university are all new cultures Borrowdale has been required to adjust to. Much like on the court, she has found this success to come quite easily.
“English people watch a lot of American TV and so it wasn’t really anything I didn’t expect,” Borrowdale said. “Even like being in the south, everyone’s like, ‘it’s going to be so different’ but it wasn’t anything I didn’t expect. I think getting used to the food is a lot harder.”
Perinar connected with Borrowdale over the summer through a former teammate at Southern Illinois who was also English and had been teammates with Borrowdale in England. That early connection was influential in Borrowdale’s assimilation into the team, allowing her to feel at home from the beginning.
“Because she’s such a genuinely nice person, I think that our team has looked to her,” Devine said. “She comes from a different country and maybe they have no idea of what England is like, so I think that those conversations outside of volleyball have kind of inspired our team to get a deeper understanding of who she is. What are her likes, her dislikes, what’s her home like? I think that our team has really enjoyed that presence.”
Borrowdale said that for the season ahead, the team is aiming to be top four in the SEC and go to the NCAA tournament. Personally, however, she wants to enjoy being with her teammates and do her part for the team, developing as a player and as a person.
“I think she’s a wonderful young woman,” Devine said. “I think she really values the opportunity that’s been placed before her. She has come in and has appreciated not only the opportunity that we’ve given her to play with our volleyball program but all the opportunities that Alabama can offer a student athlete and then the opportunity to come here and get her masters. She just really is appreciative of all that’s been given to her.”