After 13 seasons competing and coaching in Europe for various clubs, Akiko Hatakeyama returned to Temple this year to become an assistant coach.
Hatakeyama was originally supposed to join the team last season, but red-tape issues with her visa delayed her arrival. Now she serves as a recruiting coordinator for coach Bakeer Ganes, who she worked with at volleyball camps held by former Temple coach Bob Bertucci. She works with the setters during practice.
A native of Japan, Hatakeyama grew up just outside of Tokyo, and was a part of the 1997 Owls squad who earned the first NCAA Tournament berth in program history. That year, Temple won the Atlantic 10 Conference Championship, earning Temple’s bid in the big dance before falling in the first round. It would spark a run of three consecutive years as conference champions and NCAA Tournament appearances.
The Temple News: How did you get into volleyball?
Akiko Hatakeyama: As a Japanese [girl] I was really tall and the coach from the volleyball team, he recruited me to be on his team and that team happened to be really strong, so that’s how I got into the competitive volleyball field.
TTN: What made you go to Temple?
AH: I wanted to find something different. All my life back in Japan I played volleyball and I wanted to find something different that I could stand out compared to other people. I wanted to be different, I think.
TTN: Being on that NCAA Tournament team in 1997, what was that like?
AH: It was a very good experience. I really liked the team, everybody wanted to compete. Everybody was determined to win the A-10 Championship, and then we executed it, and [made] it to the NCAA [tournament] for the first time. Obviously that was a great experience. I wish we won.
TTN: What was it like to join the United States Professional Volleyball League in 2000?
AH: It was good. It was a really small league to start with, but everybody who was on the team loved to play volleyball and we wanted to get better, and all the little girls looked up to us. It was a really good opportunity for all the kids who play volleyball to be a good role model and we got to do what we like for a living.
TTN: So why did you end up going to Europe after that?
AH: The USPV, it fell down, it went bankrupt. But prior to that I also played in Portugal, and I came back to play in the USPV League. Obviously I wanted to continue playing, I was still young. So I wanted to keep going as long as I could. I really liked the life in Europe, I learned a lot. It’s different from the U.S., different from Japan. And luckily I had an offer in Europe so I went back.
TTN: Did you ever consider doing beach volleyball?
AH: Yes, but I wish I had access to the beach more. Of course, back then when I was still active as a player, [the] beach wasn’t that popular, especially in Japan. Beach was like nothing, and now it comes more and more. But back then it was not an opportunity. If I had an opportunity back then I probably would have thought about it seriously.
TTN: So what made you decide to come back after all those years in Europe?
AH: Well, I stayed in touch with coach [Ganes]. In the beginning of my career as a player I didn’t think I was going to be a coach. But as I continued to play [I thought], “Hey, maybe I can share something that I learned as a player to a current player.” I started thinking about becoming a coach later on in my career as a player. This position opened up and I knew the coach, and I went to Temple. It just worked out perfect.
TTN: Is it good to be back at Temple?
AH: I’ve been to so many different countries, but I’m back in Philadelphia. It’s something. And I like it here. I always liked it here.
TTN: What does the future hold for you?
AH: We’ll see. I don’t know yet. This is my first year as an assistant and I’m still learning a lot, so as the year goes by I will see what I want to do. Right now, I just do my best every single day and become an even better coach.
Jake Adams can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @jakeadams520.