Volleyball coaches reach worldwide for recruits

The Owls have more international players on the team than any other school in the conference.

Members of the women’s volleyball team celebrate scoring a point during the game against University of Maryland at McGonigle Hall on Friday. | MICHAEL NGUYEN / THE TEMPLE NEWS

From Turkey and Croatia to Germany and Greece, Temple University’s volleyball roster has the most international players out of any team in the American Athletic Conference. 

The Owls have five international players and have international representation in every class except junior.

In Bakeer Ganesharatnam’s eight-year tenure as Temple’s coach, he has brought in a total of 10 international players. He has added an international player to the roster in seven of the eight seasons he’s been coach. 

“It was a good option to come to university here and play volleyball and [Ganesharatnam] made it easy on me,” said sophomore outside hitter Katerina Papazoglou, who is from Greece. “He was always very easy to get along with and he made me get over my nerves of coming to America.”

Three of the top five leaders in kills this season for Temple (3-9) are international players. Papazoglou is second in kills with 93, graduate student middle blocker Iva Deak has 84 and graduate student outside hitter Irem Asci has 54. 

Asci and Deak each played on their national volleyball teams before they came to Temple. Asci, a native of Turkey’s capital city Ankara, represented Turkey in the 2013 FIVB U18 World Championship. Deak is from the Croatian capital of Zagreb and played for her country during the 2014 U19 European Championship.

Ganesharatnam is familiar with the European volleyball circuit. He was born in Sri Lanka and moved to Germany when he was 5 years old, where he found he found his love for volleyball. He competed for VfL Sindelfingen, a German club team, from 1990 to 2000. 

“I think that coach being from Europe is a big reason why he likes European players so much because we have the same technique and style of play that he is used to,” Papazoglou said. 

Ganesharatnam’s parents still live in Germany, and he often travels back to see them. His familiarity and admiration for European volleyball have helped him stay engaged with the scene and translated to his recruitment process, he said.

He often communicates with his connections in Europe. Ganesharatnam sent former outside hitter Izabella Rapacz’s highlights to a contact, which helped Rapacz sign a professional contract with Enea Energetyk Poznań in Poland in July.

“We have a network built up in Europe, and we spend a lot of time analyzing film trying to find the best fit,” Ganesharatnam said. “An advantage for us is we are a city on the East Coast that has an international airport, so it is easy on a player from Europe to get home and not be too far from home.”

Graduate outside hitter Irem Asci (left), freshman outside hitter Miray Bolukbasi and senior defensive specialist Mia Heirakuji huddle during the Owls’ loss to the University of Maryland on Friday. | MICHAEL NGUYEN / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Recruiting players is a complex process, with which associate head coach and recruiting coordinator Akiko Hatakeyama is familiar, Ganesharatnam said. Hatakeyama, a 1999 sport and recreation management alumna who played on Temple’s first NCAA Tournament team in 1997, has been on Temple’s staff since December 2011.

“With recruitment, it sort of comes naturally,” Hatakeyama said. “Our No. 1 goal is to always find the best fit for our team whether it is nationally or internationally, and we have been fortunate to recruit so many talented players outside of America.”

Hatakeyama said she finds pride and joy in working with players from so many different backgrounds because of her international background. She was raised in Japan and began her collegiate volleyball career in Tokyo playing for Kaetsu Women’s Junior College. 

“They really catch on quick with everything and there’s not too much of a language barrier on the court, so we do a good job of communicating,” Lindgren said. 

Before he became Temple’s coach, Ganesharatnam was an assistant coach from 2006-11 at West Virginia University. The Mountaineers had one international player during his tenure, he said.

Before he became Temple’s coach, Ganesharatnam was an assistant coach from 2006-11 at West Virginia University, which had one international player at the time, he said.

Temple’s diversity and environment made it conducive to recruiting abroad, he added.

“That’s a large reason why we started to pursue international players from the get go because we thought it made a lot of sense at a school like Temple,” he said.

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