During her freshman year of high school in 2010, Irem Asci sat down to talk with her parents inside her home in Ankara, Turkey.
With volleyball season approaching, she told them she was considering quitting the sport.
“It was a really hard time, going to school, while playing on the club team and high school team,” the Owls’ sophomore outside hitter said. “I was getting bored and I was not getting anything out of it. My mom and dad said ‘If you are not happy, you can quit, it’s your life’.”
After an invite to play for the Turkish junior national team, Asci could not walk away. She wanted the opportunity to represent her county in the Junior Women Balkan Volleyball Championship and the Belgium Tournament. Asci and Turkey won both tournaments.
“The national team was more rallies, more competition and I was like, ‘I am not going to quit now,’” Asci said. “Going out of the country and being with the national team, wearing the jersey, you feel really good.”
Asci started playing volleyball in the sixth grade. Her mother, Nejla, has represented Turkey nationally in judo and is now a physical education teacher in Ankara. Huseyin, her father, was on the Turkish national handball team and is the general director of sports in Turkey. Both wanted Asci to find a sport she could excel in.
“There is less running [in volleyball], and I hate running,” Asci said. “I love team sports more than anything and I didn’t like basketball that much, so I just played volleyball.”
After her junior year of high school, Asci transferred to Başkent University’s Ayse Abla College, where she led her team to a second place finish in the Turkish Championships.
After graduating, Asci, who has played in all six of the Owls’ games this season—totaling 91 kills—came to the United States to play for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. While trying to adapt to a new environment, Asci’s love for volleyball began to fade again.
The Turkish native’s time at UNC Charlotte became troublesome. Asci said a rift with teammates formed after disrespectful comments about her hygiene became a daily occurrence.
“I was not feeling the team in Charlotte,” Asci said. “I like playing more happy and smiling, not being so stressed.”
When former UNC Charlotte coach Gokhan Yilmaz left the program in early 2015, he contacted coach Bakeer Ganesharatnam about Asci transferring. The two coaches’ relationship led her to become an Owl.
“She is very coachable, a hard worker, and I think she has a very competitive nature,” Ganesharatnam said. “She is also a very pleasant individual and people like to be around her.”
Besides Ganesharatnam’s respect for Asci’s talent, he understands Asci’s relationship with volleyball.
“Me as a player, I actually quit volleyball once,” Ganesharatnam said. “I was just burnt out mentally, physically and I had some injuries, but after a year I realized how much I loved it, I got back into it. If you love volleyball, the sport will always bring you back.”
When Asci arrived at Temple, sophomore outside hitter Dara Peric made Asci feel at home. Booking the same flight home from Temple in May, the Belgrade, Serbia native and Asci shared a bond off the court.
“Since I am not from here, I know how she is feeling right now and how difficult it can be to adjust,” Peric said. “She is actually one of my best friends on the team, and she understands everything that I am going through as well, so it adds to our relationship.”
Connor Northrup can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ConnorNJ4life.