Yue Liu quickly established herself as one of the best volleyball players in the Atlantic Ten Conference during her first two seasons at Temple.
Liu won Atlantic Ten Rookie of the Year honors in 2004 and followed that with 398 kills (3.75 per game), 339 digs (3.2 per game) and 51 blocks last season to earn a spot on the A-10 First Team.
But this season, with the departure of players like Zhen Jia Liu – another A-10 First Team selection in 2005 – Yue Liu is facing her toughest challenge yet: assuming the role of a team leader.
The 6-1 junior outside hitter was named captain by her coaches and teammates before the season started.
“I have to do more,” said Liu, a native of TianJing, China, and one of three Chinese-born players on the team, along with junior Ying Sun Ling and senior Yan Liu.
“Last year our team had more players and they were more experienced. This year many of the players are new and sometimes they can get confused out on the floor, so I have to help [them] out more.”
As a captain, Yue Liu said she concentrates on being more communicative and patient with her teammates during matches.
Teammates have noticed a difference.
“She definitely has been more accountable for her actions on the floor,” senior outside hitter Jessica Waybrant said.
“She’s been more vocal. She’s communicating more with the rest of the team. … She’s come a long way and she’s worked really hard.”
Junior middle blocker Christina DeMarco said Liu continues to contribute to the team through her knowledge of the game.
“She’s very dominant and very smart; she really knows where to place the ball,” DeMarco said. “She knows so much and it’s because of her experience.”
Through 13 matches, Liu leads the Owls (6-7 overall) in kills with 171 (3.72 per game) and her 135 digs (2.93 per game) rank second on the team. All this, despite playing against two-and-three player blocking schemes in nearly every match.
Liu is still adjusting to the double-and-triple-teams, coach Bob Bertucci said.
“Against the teams that we’ve beaten, she’s unstoppable,” Bertucci said. “Now that we’re playing against teams that are better than our team overall, which is about four of the five teams we’ve lost to, she’s having trouble. … I’ve got to take responsibility for that.”
Bertucci had Liu go against a three-player block during practice last week. The reason, he said, is to have her practice in difficult situations so she will be better prepared for certain game-time scenarios.
Liu said the double- and triple-teams are “a good thing for me…because it shows that I am playing at a high level.”
“It’s good practice for me because I have to learn, ‘How can I beat the blockers and also how can I get more kills?’ If I stay at the same level that I was at before, I cannot get better. So I keep pushing myself.”
Assistant coach Bai Qing Liu has watched Yue improve as a player over the years.
Bai Qing Liu and former assistant coach Yi Qing Wang knew her when she was younger and stayed in contact with her when she joined the Chinese Army.
After seeing her play in person, Bertucci offered Yue Liu the chance to attend Temple.
“Coach told me and some of my teammates, ‘If you want to come to Temple to study and play volleyball you’re welcome to come,'” Liu said.
Switching from the faster, finesse-style of volleyball played in China to the more methodical American game, Liu was able to make an impact on the team immediately as a freshman,
Off the court, Liu had to adjust to several cultural differences. Like many other international student-athletes, the language barrier and courses were difficult at first, she said.
Two years later, Liu is steadily improving as a student and is becoming more comfortable speaking English.
“Of course, now my expectations are higher,” Bertucci said. “Now, I’m expecting her to really let loose and play and contribute to this team like I know she is capable of doing.”
Tyson McCloud can be reached at email@example.com.