At first glance, the members of Zhejiang volleyball team from China look like any other tourists in Austin. They took pictures of the field at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, ate barbecue and left with bags of gifts.
While it might seem like a vacation, it’s a little bit more for Zhejiang.
The defending champion of China’s national volleyball league is in Texas to compete against what it considers to be the best collegiate team in the U.S.
“We have been in the States for almost a week and have been playing with a couple of teams already, but we know that this team is the strongest team we’re going to play,” Zhejiang head coach Wu Sheng said through a translator.
Zhejiang and Texas, perennial contender on the collegiate stage, square off twice this week, with the last match tonight at 7 p.m. Zhejiang has already faced off against Texas Tech, winning the match in Lubbock in five sets and swept TCU on Friday night.
This, however, will be by far its toughest test in the States. In addition to facing a team ranked in the top five, Zhejiang will have to deal with the Gregory Gym environment. Up until Saturday, the Longhorns had a 34-match win streak at home, and the advantage Texas enjoys has made it tough for it to schedule tough opponents at home, which head coach Jerritt Elliott said is a reason they scheduled a matchup with Zhejiang.
But Zhejiang is no stranger to difficult environments. Sheng said they’ve faced similar tests back in China.
“It really just depends on how our players adjust to the environment,” Sheng said.
The matches between Zhejiang and Texas go past simple volleyball matches. They play into men’s athletic director Steve Patterson’s goal to grow the Texas brand, especially in China. The Texas men’s basketball team, which had a meet and greet and lunch with the Chinese volleyball team Monday, will open the 2015-2016 season against the Washington Huskies in China.
Although former athletics director DeLoss Dodds scheduled the match against Zhejiang, Patterson said these matches will get the student athletes learning about China and its cultures.
“It’s a great educational opportunity for all of your student athletes, whether you’re entertaining a foreign team here or taking a team to play in China,” Patterson said. “That’s really the key we’re working towards.”
The Longhorns are no strangers to international play. Texas has travelled twice to Europe to play top club and national teams, and many of the players play professionally overseas after graduation.
“We’re really excited when the opportunity presents itself on our campus to give the international flavor to our fans,” women’s athletic director Chris
And with sports expanding internationally, Plonsky said she doesn’t think this is the end of it, either.
“You hear about the NFL maybe putting a team in London,” Plonsky said. “Sports is global, and sports is universal, and I think that applies to college sports as well.”
But aside from the branding and growth of sports on the international level, once they hit the court, Sheng said he has one goal for his players.
“Our goal is to have all of our players fully at their best,” Sheng said.