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College Volleyball: 6-foot-9 Zhou adapting well to life in Romeoville

Yiwei Zhou (20) his Lewis volleyball teammates huddle before match vs. King. | Supplied photo

Yiwei Zhou (20) and his Lewis volleyball teammates huddle before a match vs. King. | Supplied photo

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Updated: February 8, 2013 6:12AM



Danny Friend was a little apprehensive when Yiwei Zhou contacted him from China a few years ago. Friend, the Lewis University men’s volleyball coach, was worried about having an international player join the Flyers after what happened back in 2004.

Back then, the Flyers had been riding high — no pun intended — after winning the 2003 NCAA championship. It was a huge feat for the small Division II school from Romeoville, which defeated Brigham Young in the title game.

But then came a big problem. The NCAA found that some of Lewis’ international players had played professionally overseas, a clear violation of NCAA rules.

So Lewis had to give back the national title.

And it was obvious that Friend wanted to take his time with this 6-9 athlete calling him from the other side of the world.

Friend took a chance and made sure Zhou checked out and now, three years after coming to Romeoville, Zhou begins the 2013 men’s volleyball campaign as the Flyers’ starting middle hitter after spending last season as a backup. In 2012, Zhou played in 11 matches, made three starts, and hit .317 while getting 21 kills and 17 blocks.

“The first thing I noticed about him was his really quick snap on the ball and that he could get to the ball pretty fast,” Friend said. “He has some big size which makes an impact for us.”

Zhou and the Flyers opened the season over the weekend at the UCSB Asics Invitational in Santa Barbara, Calif. where the No. 5 Flyers dropped all three matches.

California is just one of the many places Zhou has discovered in his travels with Lewis’ volleyball team. That’s one of the reasons why Zhou’s parents wanted him to go to college in the United States.

“The most enjoyable part has been the travel we do every year,” Zhou said. “We’ve gone to Hawaii and California as well as the East Coast.”

Planning to leave

The first thing Zhou’s parents wanted for their son was the opportunity to experience something new and different, away from their hometown of Nanjingi, China. And that’s where studying in the United States came up.

Plus the fact that Zhou, 21, had been playing volleyball since he was a freshman in high school, athletics seemed like a good way to get Zhou into an American school.

Zhou said he also contacted Lewis because the school has a strong aviation program, something consistent with what he wanted to study.

“When I first arrived (at Lewis), the vocabulary and terminology that the team was using on the volleyball court was difficult,” Zhou said. “And I did not adapt well to the western types of food.”

Zhou did get homesick, especially around the Chinese New Year, but one thing that he has excelled at may be quite surprising.

“He speaks better English than you or me,” Friend said.

“English is mandatory in schools (in China),” Zhou said. “But I also watched a lot of movies in English.”

Zhou’s hometown of Nanjingi is a bustling urban area, so Zhou felt like he fit in pretty well when he went to Chinatown on Chicago’s South Side.

He goes back to the neighborhood when he can and enjoys attending the markets there where he can buy food that reminds him of home.

He communicates as often as he can with his family back in China, using Skype — “That seems to shorten the distance,” Zhou said — and he goes home every summer.

The master plan

Since Zhou is an aviation administration major with a minor in aircraft dispatch, his goal is to work at a major airport like O’Hare International.

He’s already had an aviation internship in China last summer, but is aiming to try and get one at O’Hare this year depending on his immigration status. In the long run, Zhou isn’t sure if he will want to pursue becoming an American citizen.

The experience of being in the United States has exceeded Zhou’s expectations. He was worried about fitting in with his teammates and the culture, but has adapted rather well. He likes the television show “Family Guy” and most music except for heavy metal and rap. Zhou is just a typical American college kid.

“Before I came here, I was nervous about getting along with American teammates,” Zhou said. “But they helped me with everything and we exchanged a lot of different ideas. There are some differences, but in general we are all the same.”



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