UC head volleyball coach Reed Sunahara and former playing great Stephanie Niemer can each add to the list of international destinations they have visited after the duo were part of a recent USA delegation to China. The trip, organized by Niemer's agent and Sunahara's long-time friend Tim Kelly, gave both an experience they won't soon forget.
The USA delegation was made up of two teams, primarily of college standouts, along with three coaches for each squad. Niemer, who concluded her All-American career at UC last fall, was a Red Team member, with Sunahara as one of the leaders. Each of the teams played six matches against university or professional teams, made up of some of China's top players. While the on-court results weren't what either of the UC contingent were looking for (the Red Team finished the tour with a 2-4 record), overall both say the nearly two-week trip was very much worth the time.
"We were 2-4 but we could have won a couple more matches," Sunahara says. "We lost a close four-gamer in Shandong and then we lost a close one in five after being up 2-1 and up big in four. I was disappointed in losing but overall I thought it was a great experience for me and the team."
"We had good players with good accolades, but with all of us playing together for the first time, we were a little bit shaky and not used to each other's way of playing," Niemer says. "The Chinese competition was good though so (give) credit to them. It was definitely not what we expected to come out with, but all in all it was a good experience. I am not disappointed that I went to China; I am glad that I went. The volleyball could have been better, but it was a good experience."
Niemer, playing for the first time competitively since wrapping up her first season as a professional in Puerto Rico played well during the tour, winning Player of the Match honors on multiple occasions. Always her own worst critic though, Niemer admits that she hoped she could have played even better than she did.
"For me personally, I expected myself to play better than I did," she says. "I was a little rusty from being off a month after Puerto Rico, but it picked up towards the middle. I know what I need to work on and what I need to get better at because I went and saw what my weaknesses are. Playing against the Chinese pro team and some of the university teams, it definitely taught me what I need to be better at and how I can be successful."
While the tour was made up mostly of volleyball practice and competition, time was also set aside for the Americans to enjoy the sights and culture of China. Among the stops for the USA group were the Great Wall, the Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. Each of the historical stops left quite an impression on Sunahara.
"The historical sites in Beijing were unbelievable," he says. "We climbed the Great Wall which was grueling. The only negative of that was it was an overcast day and you couldn't see too far, but it was amazing just being there and the history behind that. We also saw Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven and all of those places were just beautiful."
In addition to the seeing the famous sites, the group also enjoyed visiting the Silk and Pearl Markets, where wheeling and dealing are the name of the game. From clothes to electronics to bags and sunglasses, the streets of Beijing are the place for visitors to shop and pick up items at greatly reduced prices. But the experience itself is what left the biggest memory with Niemer.
"The shopping was a crazy experience," she says. "It was just a different shopping experience and I didn't even expect what we got. There were a lot of people talking to you, grabbing you, trying to get your attention; it was just crazy."
With the Bring It Promotions trip to China now a memory, both Sunahara and Niemer will gear up for what's next. Sunahara is preparing for his 12th season as UC's head coach, while Niemer is finishing up school and looking forward to a second year playing professionally. Both, however, have no regrets about the choice they made to make the trip to China.
"I like to go to places that I haven't been before and I had never to been to China," Sunahara says. "I thought it was a great opportunity, but I was a bit skeptical with it being my first time and being so far, but it was a good decision on my part."
"It was a once in a lifetime experience," Niemer adds. "A lot of people won't ever see the Great Wall in their life and so I was glad I got to be a part of that and cross it off the bucket list."