A set passion in playing volleyball

Nothing else matters when she’s in the moment. With every spike and set, she is making a statement, a display of her dedication. Freshman Michelle Zhao devotes countless hours to improve her technique and prove her place in the varsity volleyball team.

Zhao began playing volleyball when she was 6 years old. Her father acts as her biggest inspiration. He was originally part of a group that played recreational grass volleyball every weekend, and eventually, Zhao started participating as well. At 8 years old, she transitioned from playing for leisure to playing for a club team and has continued doing so ever since.

“My dad always brought me along, and that really influenced me into loving the sport,” Zhao said. “If you mess up, you have someone beside you to bring you up, and it’s so amazing to see how your team first starts playing together and how we all improve so much throughout the season.”

Zhao is one of three freshmen on the varsity volleyball team. Her position as an outside hitter enables her to be a more versatile player. She acts as one of the principal passers and blockers for the team.

“It’s pretty crazy to think that as a freshman, I was chosen alongside one of my best friends to be on the varsity team. Everyone [on the team] is all really close, and we’re basically sisters. I hope that I can continue being a good teammate and [keep] my head up no matter what [happens] during their games,” Zhao said.

Recently, Zhao was recognized as the Most Valuable Player (MVP) during a preseason tournament at Gladstone High School on Saturday, Aug. 26 in which the team finished first overall.

“Getting the MVP award was honestly such a surprise to me since there were so many amazing players to choose from, so it really means a lot to me,” Zhao said. “If it weren’t for my amazing coaches and teammates, this award probably wouldn’t have been mine. They provide such a good foundation, and I’m blessed to be a part of that.”

Zhao has participated in two club teams at different points in her career. She was originally a part of Club Heights for three years but eventually switched to San Gabriel Elite. Currently, she is going into her second year with Elite, where she practices at least four times a week.

“Being on a club team is such an amazing experience that everyone should try, whether it’s for volleyball or any other sport. It really helped me become a team player and not just an individual player, because [in] volleyball, it’s all about the teamwork,” Zhao said.

Moving forward, Zhao hopes to continue playing volleyball throughout high school and eventually for a Division 1 college. She also aspires to play for the USA national team as a professional career.

“Volleyball is definitely more than a hobby to me. It’s basically my life, so I hope that I am able get out there and present myself to recruits,” Zhao said. “All coaches like their players differently, and my goal is to try and be a player that most coaches like. But most importantly, I want to continue loving what I do. I love the teamwork in the sport and how we all end up being a family both on and off the court.”

By Ashley Liang, Staff writer
Photo by Sam Compolongo