Amherst, N.Y. - Ye Wang is literally living out
a childhood fantasy right here at Daemen College. The
6-foot-1 junior middle blocker on the College’s volleyball
team gets a stunning grin on her face when she explains how she
always dreamed of coming to the United States to play at the
college level while growing up in her native Beijing, China.
“Coming to America was my childhood dream. I’ve always wanted to come here,” Wang said in a recent interview for Daemen Today, the College’s magazine published biannually for alumni, friends and supporters. “One of the older players that I knew from middle school plays at Boston College, and I remember thinking, ‘wow, that’s so cool; I hope one day I can go to America to play college-level volleyball.”
It’s been a long and winding road for Wang to get where she is today. Growing up in China, Wang says that the focus is mainly on academics and the rigorous standards that students are expected to achieve. She is appreciative though, that her parents, Faji Wang and Hanhua Guo, wanted a more well-rounded experience for her, allowing her to partake in different activities including sports and playing the trumpet.
“My parents were real nice to let me do other things,” she said. “My parents kind of went the other way than what is normal. They wanted me to get a hand at everything and I really appreciate that.”
Wang was selected to attend Chichahai Sports School – a middle school in Beijing where the curriculum puts an emphasis on sport-training.
“I was always the tallest one in the class, so the coach selected me to go to the really sport-specific school,” she said. “We would have academic work in the mornings and then we’d practice in the afternoon, from 1:30 or 2:30 until 5:00. We started with real basic skills. Sometimes we’d spend the entire afternoon just working on passing, or working on the swing.”
At the age of 15 with volleyball now firmly planted as her passion, Wang shipped out to Hachioji Jissen High School in Tokyo, Japan to begin the pursuit of her ultimate dream – a college volleyball career in the United States.
“Fortunately, I went to a really, really good high school in Tokyo. It’s always number one in Tokyo for volleyball,” she said.
But, the atmosphere wasn’t without its differences from her homeland, forcing Wang to adapt, beginning with educating herself on the language.
“Volleyball practice, compared to in China, was totally different,” she said. “We would have school until 3:30 every day and then practice for three or four hours. Sometimes we wouldn’t finish practice until 8:00 or 8:30. It was really hard for me to take care of my academics and at the same time learn Japanese.”
After conquering the language barrier, the academic rigors and the volleyball competition in Tokyo, it was almost time for Wang to make her dream come true. It would take a year, however, to become proficient enough with her English-speaking abilities for her to be eligible to compete on the court. To do so, she enrolled in the English as a Second Language program at Emporia State University in Emporia, Kan. While there, Wang stayed with a host family – an experience that left an indelible mark upon her.
“Being with the host family helped me a lot because they were all Americans; there were no Chinese around me,” Wang said, reminiscing. “They helped with my English and they showed me what real American life is like.”
After a year at Emporia State, Wang was prepared to fulfill her destiny as a college volleyball player. Enter Daemen College and head coach Mark Parisi to the equation.
“My business life has taken me to China many times over the last 10 years, so I have had a chance to get an understanding of the people and the culture,” said Parisi, who works as the Vice President for Product and Business Development at Niagara Thermal Products, in addition to his coaching duties for the Wildcats. “In talking with Ye, I could tell she was a very motivated and intelligent young lady. To spend the time that she did in Japan and then in the States, on her own, is an indication of her desire to have the best opportunities.”
Wang said that Daemen first appeared on her radar because of the College’s location in New York State, although, admittedly it wasn’t what she expected when she first arrived on campus.
“In my mind, it was like a TV show. I thought of New York and all the tall buildings like in New York City. Obviously, after I came for tryouts, I said ‘oh, well it’s not what I think’. But, I quickly grew to like the environment here. It’s close to Niagara Falls and the environment is so beautiful here,” she said, adding that she really enjoys the community of Amherst and the area’s houses and parks.
Wang met former College President Dr. Edwin Clausen during her first day on campus, another experience that left a lasting impression on the young foreigner.
“He was very welcoming to me,” she remembered. “It felt real warm, like everyone at Daemen is really close to each other. Daemen feels like family.”
The decision to come to Daemen has certainly paid off, thus far, for Wang and the Wildcats. In her first two years donning the Daemen blue and white, Wang has racked up all kinds of accolades – First Team All-American Mideast Conference (AMC), AMC Freshman of the Year, American Volleyball Coaches Association NAIA Northeast Region Freshman of the Year, United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) Second Team All-American, USCAA National All-Academic Team – while also leading the team to the USCAA National Championship in 2012.
“That was a real exciting moment in my life because it was my first championship in America,” she said. “I’m so lucky to have had that opportunity. I appreciate the team and our coaches and the whole athletic department.”
As grateful as Wang is, her coach is equally appreciative of what she has brought to the table.
“Ye is the best ball handler I have ever seen,” Parisi said. “She has shown me drills that were the staple in Japan that I have learned from. Her contribution was immediately felt as a freshman and this past year she was a key member of one of the most successful teams in Daemen's history. Her blocking ability at the net is outstanding and, offensively, she can be a force when she wants to.”
It’s not surprising that the two of them have developed a strong bond over the past few years. As bright as Wang’s face gets when she’s asked about her dream to come to America, Parisi gets wide-eyed and bushy-tailed when speaking about the young lady he’s come to know.
Wang credits Parisi’s energetic and enthusiastic coaching style with changing the way she thinks about the game and her performance.
“I’m kind of tough on myself. I always want to be the perfect one. I cannot give any excuse to miss a point,” she explained. “He always tells me nobody is perfect and that I don’t need to make myself upset about everything. He says to be happy and enjoy the life, enjoy the team, enjoy every practice and games and if you have fun, that’s good enough.”
Around here, having fun can be defined as getting the opportunity to watch this bright student-athlete perform for two more years.
Provided by the Daemen Sports Information Department.