Chinese step in, set up at UMES 2 volleyball recruits are hit with Hawks

November 08, 1996|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,SUN STAFF

PRINCESS ANNE -- The first kill from Maryland-Eastern Shore's Wang Furong in a recent volleyball match against Howard University barely made it over the net, but that was the idea. If the other team expects power, use a little finesse.

Soon enough, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference's leading hitter would start pounding away. It just took some time for her velocity to pick up.

Wang and her setter, Gao Yiyang, have used a similar approach to ease into college life in this country.

Juniors Wang, 24, and Gao, 20, are the first athletes from China to play the sport at UMES, and it's no coincidence the Fighting Hawks' 10 wins are among the most in the program's history. Wang leads the MEAC in two statistical categories and has been named all-conference first team, and Gao is seventh in assists and aces.

And there's more to their success story than volleyball. They were "A" students when they arrived here about two months ago, and nothing has changed despite loaded schedules and a language barrier.

But don't be fooled. Adjusting to new surroundings, in a country they had only read about until recently, isn't that easy.

Wang, nicknamed "Faye," came to UMES from Harbin on Aug. 26, a week before Gao arrived from Wenzhou. They were brought here by the Hawks' first-year coach, Jin Limin, a native of Hang Chow who moved to the United States in 1991.

Jin had contacted a friend in China who coaches volleyball, seeking a couple of women athletes who would be interested in attending UMES, then chose Wang and Gao from a batch of applicants.

"They were good students and they had better English than the others," he said.

"The first month, they cried a couple of times. Before, it was so hard, life here -- both academics and lifestyles. But now, I think they're much happier. They've got a lot of friends on campus. But there's still some ways to go."

Help comes in many forms.

The other players keep close tabs on Wang, who lives alone in a campus apartment, and Gao, who has a roommate. Jin and his wife take them shopping for food. Tutors are made available to assist in their studies.

Jin even served as a translator while Wang and Gao were being interviewed by a reporter, more to relax them than out of necessity.

"Everyone's very friendly, both my teammates and classmates. They always help. We've made a lot of friends," Wang said.

"The most difficult thing for them is the cultural differences," Jin said. "And the way they play is different here. Over there, they're all pretty even. But here, they're so far above everybody else."

Wang, 6 feet 1, has few peers in the MEAC. A former national junior player for China who was part of a championship team at Nankai University, she ranks first in kills and hitting percentage and second in aces in the conference, and is among the leaders in digs.

She had 26 kills in a four-game loss to Howard, when Gao totaled 31 assists, and last weekend was named MVP of the Hampton University tournament, which UMES won.

"They've got excellent skills, but they still work and practice hard. And they try to adjust to the style here, instead of [the other players] adjusting to them," Jin said.

They also had to get used to some different rules, like not being allowed to use their feet to make contact with the ball, which is permitted in international play. And Gao, 5-11, was introduced to a new position after being an outside hitter in China.

Even the practices here were foreign. "We work harder than in China," Gao said. "And the spirit -- they make a lot of noise, and it's just 100 percent effort. We really respect that."

Signs that Wang and Gao are blending in are becoming more frequent during their matches, as they join in the rhythmic clapping after an ace and slap hands with other players.

"They do it more than they used to," said senior co-captain Andrea Jackson. "They're gradually catching on to the way we do things."

"In China," Jin said, "everybody is silent. They don't talk. The women are not supposed to make noise. But here, we make a lot of noise. That's the freedom. Here, it's more happy, more fun."

It hasn't always been easy for the Hawks to mesh as a team, though. They were swept in four of their first five matches, and also lost the other.

"At the beginning, it was more difficult for us to play well because there was a communication gap, but everything's fallen into place now," Jackson said.

Their personalities are as different as their roles on the team. Gao is more outspoken, while Wang is quiet and shy.

And though she was homesick the first month, Wang doesn't feel as removed from her family as Gao. Wang's parents are visiting for the next few months, and she has an older brother, Weiming, living in Gaithersburg and working in Bethesda as a software engineer.

"I've tried contacting her during the night, and usually she's not back to her dorm until midnight or 1 a.m. She's usually typing papers or something," said Weiming, who came to the U.S. four years ago and graduated from the University of Maryland.

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