The Missouri volleyball team learned a lesson in communication from a team whose language they could not understand.
For the past week, the Tigers hosted a team from BeiHang University of Beijing, China, but it was Wednesday night’s goodwill exhibition game at the Hearnes Center that brought the most perspective into the teams’ differences.
The game came down to a fifth match tie-breaker. After BeiHang won the first two games 30-26 and 31-29, Missouri found its stride, making a comeback to win the next two sets 30-28 and 30-21. However, BeiHang’s on-court communication allowed them to take the final game 15-9.
“We saw how they play together and how they communicate, and we can learn from that,” said MU outside hitter Jessica Vander Kooi. “We don’t always know what they’re saying, but they were always talking. That will be one of our goals for the fall.”
The Tigers’ Lei Wang, who is a native of Shangai, China, saw the Chinese team’s ability to connect as spiritual. Although she was nervous about her public debut as successor to former setter Lindsey Hunter, who now plays for the U.S. national team, she was inspired by the way the BeiHang players encouraged each other.
“They cannot tell when they are behind,” she said. “They still run around screaming and cheering for each other. Spiritual stuff is hard to practice, but I think we can do it.”
Missouri coach Wayne Kreklow said the experience of playing the sport in the realm of another culture would facilitate his own communication with the Tigers. “Volleyball-wise it is great for our players to see how their team plays,” he said. “We’re not quite at that skill level, but it will help our players to understand what we are talking about, what we want. Being on the court with them is just invaluable for us.”
Besides opening the Tigers’ eyes to a new style of communication, the Chinese team introduced a new style of playing as well. The Tigers played with power from the onset, with emphasis on physical athleticism that is typical of the U.S. style of volleyball. As compensation for their smaller stature, BeiHang was almost sneaky, using speed and strategy to steal a number of points by just tipping the ball over the net.
“They are smaller hitters, so they have to speed up their side of the game,” Vander Kooi said.
Kreklow said that because of the fast pace, the Tigers had a tough time clicking offensively, but that their blocking was better than ever.