While most students were packing up to go home at the end of the spring semester, Lehigh’s women’s volleyball players were busy making different plans. The day after final exams ended, they boarded a plane for China for a three-week journey that has seen them immerse themselves in Chinese culture—and take on some top competition, as well.
The team arrived in Beijing on May 10 to face their first opponent—Tsinghua University, the country’s top-ranked collegiate beach volleyball team. Later, they held an outdoor practice with Beijing Transportation University, which is ranked fifth in China among collegiate indoor volleyball teams, before playing several other teams in Beijing, Nanjing and Shanghai.
In Nanjing, the Mountain Hawks played matches against Southeast University, one of Lehigh’s institutional partners, and Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology, Lehigh’s sister school.
In Shanghai, the team is staying at the East China University of Science and Technology—another institutional partner—and participating in a formal discussion with the school’s volleyball team on cultural differences related to sports before returning to the United States on May 30.
“China is one of the best volleyball countries in the world and our team is getting an opportunity to train at a level that they don’t normally have,” says head coach Bob Bertucci. “We want to develop a young team and this will help us to prepare for the upcoming season.”
Meeting all expectations
The trip is the first tour of China for the women’s volleyball team, and a homecoming for assistant coach Yun Yi Zhang, a native of China who has coached at Lehigh for the last two years. As part of the trip, the team trained with Zhang’s father, Luo Zhang, a professional volleyball coach in China for more than 30 years and the former manager and director of the Chinese men’s national volleyball team.
“The trip has been everything I was hoping it could be for the team,” says Bertucci. “The ladies have had an outstanding cultural experience, and educationally it has been equally as rewarding. The training and competition have been outstanding and we get better individually every day.”
In addition to playing volleyball, the team has visited several of China’s most famous sights, including Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Confucius Temple. They also had lunch with John Sullivan ’84, a Lehigh alumnus who now works for Texas Instruments in China and lives near the Great Wall.
“We have been learning a lot on the trip,” says Katie Troyan ’16, a defensive specialist and setter. “What stands out most is the rich Chinese culture that surrounds us. We have visited some awesome places, from the Great Wall of China to the Summer Palace and the Forbidden City.
“From a volleyball perspective, we are learning various techniques that the Chinese use while playing in all aspects of the game,” she adds. “The ultimate goal is to use what we are learning against these teams now and bring it back to the court next fall.”