Aug. 20, 2009

By Amy Farnum

The Emporia State women’s volleyball coaching staff had never seen their star setter Ting Liu play a match before she made the journey halfway around the world to join the Hornets’ program, but head coach Bing Xu and his assistant and wife Ping Wang had enough trust in a mutual friend’s opinion that their risk has turned into reward for the whole team.

Liu grew up in Beijing, China – also the native country of Xu and Wang, who have both played and coached in the United States for several years.  Wang brought the couple’s daughter back to China to visit, and on the advice of a volleyball-playing friend, contact between Liu and the coaches began.

“They said I know a player who played a local sports school,” said Xu. “She’s a young kid, who really wants to come to the United States and study English and play volleyball.  We never saw her play, but we trusted the friend’s judgment and we brought her here.”

Xu said they saw a little video of Liu competing, and were confident with her ability and size (6-foot-1) she would be an asset to an up-and-coming ESU program.

“We thought if she came here we could work with her to learn the American game,” said Liu.

“I didn’t know anything about the NCAA – Division I or Division II – I just wanted to come to the U.S., play volleyball and study English,” said Liu.

When Liu arrived on campus in Emporia, Kan., her first priority was learning the language and culture, while taking an intensive English course of study and sitting out a year from volleyball.

“That first year I just tried to learn something, but I think that helped me adjust better in my freshman season,” said Liu.

Although Xu says that he and Wang’s background may have made Liu feel more comfortable so far from home, he was most concerned with her fitting in well with the other players.

“We talk to her in English during practices and in games,” said Xu.  “She’s a hard worker – she picked up English very well, and got to know all the players and they like her.  It’s good to be around the American players, because that has helped her adapt to the culture a lot.”

In her first year of action on the court, Liu definitely had no trouble fitting in as she garnered Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association Freshman of the Year honors. 

“We don’t have a lot of problems with her setting,” said Xu.   “She has very good hands and knows the game pretty well, but quickness-wise, the first year we thought we had to push her a little bit.  The first year she was still learning, but the second year she stepped up her game and that’s why we had a great year.”

With last year’s improvement, Liu gained national recognition as a First Team AVCA All-American, as well earning the MIAA Player of the Year award.  She tallied 1,534 assists, averaging 12.17 assists per set, which ranked second in the nation in 2008. 

There are high expectations for Emporia State this season as they return six starters from the 2008 MIAA Championship squad.  The Hornets were voted to defend their title in the ultra-competitive league which had six teams qualify for the NCAA tournament last season.

“The last couple years we were always in the middle,” said Xu.  “We told the players that we could better, and last year we proved it.  We’ve been talking for the last two weeks about being on top right now, and how we will be challenged.  They know we’re going to have to keep working hard and fight harder.”

Emporia State opens the 2009 season at the UNO Volleyball Showcase in Omaha, Neb., Aug. 28-29.