On the volleyball court, her 6-foot-4-inch frame is hard to miss.
She gracefully lofts the ball with one hand and delivers it with a force that can knock an opponent down. On plays when she stands in front of the net, she can slam the ball to the other side of the court without leaving the floor.
And yet off the court, junior outside hitter Yun Yi Zhang of the volleyball team has a calm and gentle demeanor. As the daughter of former Chinese National Volleyball Team member and current Shandong University head volleyball coach Luo Zhang, she proves that genetics can overcome a late start to a sport, one that she didn’t start playing until the age of 13.
Zhang’s prowess was evident early on. She led her high school to the Shanghai High School Volleyball Championship during her senior season. She was also a member of the Chinese Youth National Team that earned the World Youth title. After high school, Zhang attended Shandong University, but didn’t play volleyball. A year after that, she moved to the United States.
“I came [to the United States] for the education,” she said. “There were Chinese people here [on Temple’s women’s volleyball team] already,” Zhang said.
Also at Temple was her former volleyball coach, current assistant coach Bai Qing Liu.
Since Zhang hadn’t played for a year, there was a slight adjustment period.
“She didn’t start off in the best shape. She came in…she didn’t really work out,” junior setter Jacklyn Morrison said. “She’d get tired in the middle of the game. She wasn’t jumping; she wasn’t hitting as hard.”
But Zhang’s focus and determination soon paid off.
“This year, she worked out all summer,” Morrison said. “She’s really [shown] 100 percent improvement. I can see it in the game how she is quicker [and] so much better.”
Coach Bob Bertucci was also impressed with Zhang’s natural skill.
“Yi was a pretty good athlete when she began, however, her physical fitness has improved,” he said. “We don’t have anyone that size [with] that physical presence. When her shoulder is better, she’ll bring some heat to her spike.”
Despite the conditioning and injury issues, Zhang’s athletic ability at the outside hitter position is impressive. Last year, she was named to the Atlantic Ten Conference All-Rookie Team and Second Team All-A-10. Additionally, she led the team and conference with nearly six kills per match.
During last Friday’s 3-0 victory against Manhattan, Zhang had 12 kills.
“She brings more experience to the team,” Morrison said. “She’s 6 feet 3 inches and hits the ball really hard.”
With a good start to the season and improved conditioning, the sky really is the limit for Zhang. That sentiment also applies to the classroom, as Zhang is pursuing a degree in sport and recreation management.
Though she hasn’t made a decision regarding her volleyball career, Zhang is considering a career in sports, possibly a coaching position.
“If I can play volleyball, that’s great,” she said. “I haven’t decided yet.”
But no matter what she does, it appears that Zhang would make her father proud on any side of the ocean.
Kurt Hirsch can be reached at email@example.com.