Volleyball brings Chinese player to Columbia

Chinese middle blocker has played in every game after recovering from two knee surgeries
Wednesday, September 24, 2008 | 11:03 p.m. CDT; updated 12:30 p.m. CDT, Thursday, September 25, 2008
Weiwen Wang is a starting sophomore middle blocker for the Missouri volleyball team. She came from Nanjing, China, to play for the Tigers.

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COLUMBIA - Weiwen Wang is doing two things that her mother in China would want her to.

The starting sophomore middle blocker from Nanjing is playing volleyball and living in America.

MU beats Texas Tech

Weiwen Wang led the Tigers with 11 kills as MU (6-6, 1-2) earned its first Big 12 Conference win of the season with a 25-18, 26-24, 25-15 sweep of the Red Raiders. MU's victory included a charge back from a 20-13 deficit in the second set.

Middle blocker Amanda Dowdy had 13 kills for Texas Tech (5-9, 0-3).

The Tigers return to Columbia to face SIU-Edwardsville at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. MU's next conference game is a home match against Iowa State on Wednesday.



But in a country where family is everything and last names come first, Wang chose a different path.

Wang's mother always wanted to play volleyball but chose track and field instead for reasons she never explained. When Wang was a child in the city on China's east coast, she participated in track and field. Like her mother, she wanted to play volleyball. When she was nine, Wang made the switch her mother didn't.

"I was bored with track and field," Wang said. "Because volleyball is kind of like funny stuff, like everything is changing all the time, not as like track. You just run straight."

Wang's mother spent time in Canada in the 1980s , but then returned to China to be with Wang's father. She wants her daughter to spend more time away from China, like she wanted to, and play volleyball.

"She wants me to complete her dream," Wang said.

Before the MU coaching staff contacted her, Wang did not plan to come to America. Her first taste of America was the MU campus.

"I didn't think about that," Wang said. "I just wanted to go to the universities in China, like also play volleyball on the team."

MU assistant coach Deng Yang knew Wang's mother because they are from the same province in China. When Missouri contacted Wang, she decided to come to America because she thought it would be a better country.

"The air is more fresh and the sky is clear," she said.

She still misses her friends and family in China and uses the Internet to communicate.

"I actually use MSN - a lot," she said of the popular instant-messaging program.

Wang saw her mother in person when she came to Columbia in the spring when Wang had surgery for a torn meniscus.

"She always encouraged me and just made me comfortable," Wang said. "I was not very happy, like off the court, can not play with my teammates. I feel like, very lonely."

During that visit, Wang's mother taught her how to cook Chinese food and helped her rehabilitate through the second of her two surgeries for torn meniscuses.

Wang has a difficult time describing the food she makes, which is very different from American food. But she said it's as good as what her mother cooks.

"I'm very good right now," she said.

At 5-foot-11, Wang is undersized as a Big 12 middle blocker. She is the shortest of five middle blockers on the Tigers' roster. But her teammate, junior setter Lei Wang (no relation), said she makes up for it by playing at a faster tempo.

"I'm setting, and she's already in the air waiting for (a) hit," Lei Wang said. "That's her tempo with me."

Lei Wang says most middle blockers are taller than Weiwen Wang, so they don't jump as early, and having a middle blocker already in the air makes setting easier.

"Plus, we actually lost a little connection between each other, because of her knee surgery a little bit," Lei Wang said. "But now I feel like we come back."

MU head coach Wayne Kreklow said Weiwen Wang is still recovering from her surgery. Her first surgery came last December. But Wang hasn't missed starting a match this season.

"You are out for a while, you lose some muscle mass, it takes a while to get back," Kreklow said. "Right now, what she's struggling with is she just doesn't have quite the same jump that she did last year at this time."

When Weiwen Wang got to Missouri, her English was not good enough for her to understand what coaches and teammates were telling her.

"I don't know, like, technical terms," she said. "I was always lost in the court."

Weiwen Wang is the fifth MU volleyball player to come from China. Lei Wang, from Shanghai, was ready to help with English and other adjustments, as others from China had helped her before.

"I came from that way," Lei Wang said. "When Shen (Danru) was on the team, when Na (Yang) was on the team, and when I didn't have my car, and they all helped me out. So, and plus that we're all from the same country. We all speak the same language, I guess just help her. It's kind of part of my ‘duty.' We are five years apart (in age). So I feel like more like a big sister to her."

So it was natural to help her during her freshman year.

"When she lived in the dorm, and she didn't have any stove or anything, so I just take her to my house and we share food or whatever," Lei Wang said. "Because when I was being helped, I just think I should help others."

While both speak Mandarin Chinese, Lei Wang said their dialects are slightly different. And the food Weiwen Wang cooks is different than Shanghai food.

"Actually she's about two hours away from my hometown, so it's kind of closer, like the taste," Lei Wang said. "They (tend) towards the spicy ... I like sweet."

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