For the second straight year, middle blocker Melanie Wade's summer combined some volleyball with some world traveling. After traveling to Europe with the Huskies in 2013, Wade was the UW representative on the 2014 Pac-12 All-Star Team that spent eleven days in China at the end of June. The team traveled to Shanghai, Sanming, and Beijing, playing seven matches along the way, and going 4-3 overall with five matches going to five sets. Sightseeing highlights included visits to the Great Wall of China, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Silk Market.
GoHuskies.com: What were some of your favorite sights on the trip?
Melanie Wade: Visiting and climbing the Great Wall of China was by far the best experience. It was hot, and it started pouring rain while we were climbing to the top. It was exhausting too, we ended up having to run what seemed like a mile in the rain so that we could take the chairlift down to the ground and make it to the bus on time. We also almost got stuck on the wall because we didn't have enough money to buy a ticket down. Thank you to the German man who gave us 30 Yuan for a ticket.
GH: How was the food? Everyone knows "Chinese food" here but I'm guessing it was pretty different.
MW: Chinese food in the US and Chinese food in China are pretty different. I think a lot of us expected it to be something like Panda Express. Wrong. There were a number of mysterious dishes and most of us tended to stick with the bread, rice, and watermelon that was provided. The times I did branch out it was towards more recognizable dishes, like broccoli. The cool part was eating with Chinese teams. They filled their plates with everything, and our plates were all simple and the same. I do know I won't be eating Chinese food for a while.
GH: What surprised you about everyday life in China? Did you notice any differences compared to home or compared to Europe last summer?
MW: It reminded me a lot of the U.S., people went to work, went to the park with their family, or went to the store. It surprised me how popular volleyball was. We got some large crowds, were on their national TV, and even spotted some advertisements for our games around the streets of Beijing. Compared to the trip in Europe, I felt like there was a larger language barrier in China. In Europe I could kind of figure out what was going on in a conversation, but in China I was completely lost.
GH: Were people friendly to you despite the language barrier? You must have stood out a lot.
MW: The people were always very friendly, wanting to talk to us and take pictures. Our presence was definitely noticed. Random people on the street would take photos of us while we were just standing there. I can't count the number of times I would turn my head and see multiple people taking pictures of me or the group.
GH: As players from rival teams, how did you guys get along off the court?
MW: Getting to know the girls from the other Pac-12 teams was a great experience. I only knew them from the other side of the net, so playing with them and learning about them as people was really cool. We often found ourselves joking about our games against each other, or about something completely un-volleyball related. I can now say I have a friend on every team.
GH: What were the practices like compared to what you're used to at Washington?
MW: The practices were a little more relaxed than I'm used to. The main focus was trying to fit each of our playing styles into a team system, which was difficult because we all come from different systems. In the end we managed to put together some good volleyball, and I had a great time playing with all the girls.
GH: What was the level of competition like? Did the Chinese teams do anything differently than you’re used to seeing from NCAA teams or from the teams in Europe last year?
MW: The Chinese teams were very competitive. Similar to the teams in Italy last year, they tended to run a faster offense than a lot of NCAA teams, and their players were not afraid to swing hard at every ball, even if it meant getting stuffed. When they won a really important point they would sometimes all run in a circle around the court arms outstretched like airplanes instead of gathering in the middle of the court like we do. At the same time they were a lot like us. They would laugh at a funny play, or get mad at the ref for a bad call. All together it was a great experience getting to compete against them.