Gophers middle blocker Hannah Tapp traded her maroon and gold for red, white and blue for nearly two weeks in June.
Tapp, a rising sophomore, toured China with the United States Collegiate National Team from June 17–27.
The trip included a mixture of volleyball and sightseeing. The games were at night, Tapp said, which left days to see places like Sanming and Beijing. Highlights for her included the Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China.
“Obviously I had seen it in history books,” Tapp said of the Great Wall, “but nothing compares to what it’s like when you’re there … and how amazing it is.”
Despite all the travel, the team was focused on the task at hand.
“We wanted to make sure that we made [volleyball] the major priority,” co-head coach Mark Rosen said. “Certainly it’s cool to go to a different culture and a different country, but the reality is we wanted to be competitive and we knew the level of play was going to be really high.”
Before leaving for China, the team met and trained at the University of Southern California from June 13–15.
The group consisted of young college volleyball stars from around the country.
Gophers head coach Hugh McCutcheon, who has coached both the men’s and women’s U.S. Olympic volleyball teams, said the trip was “a great opportunity for college athletes to get a taste of international volleyball.”
Tapp said she didn’t know any of her teammates prior to the trip, but once they left China, the teammates “felt like we knew each other really well.”
The team’s newness translated onto the court, but Tapp said as the team competed together, it grew together.
“By the end of it, when we’d tell teams that we were just a bunch of college kids that went to tryouts and got put on this team together, they were amazed how well we played together,” Tapp said.
And Tapp, who started 34 of 35 matches for the Gophers last season and received Freshman All-Big Ten honors, was a big reason for it.
Rosen said the team was quiet, but Tapp brought many athletes out of their shells.
“Earlier in the process, she wasn’t really in the starting role and was coming off the bench, but then as the tour went on, she really became very important for us as a starter and really earned a big role of our team because of her personality,” Rosen said.
The U.S. competed against the youth national team from China and then Chinese professional teams.
While adjusting to one another, the players also had to adjust to a faster style of play.
Though the players tried training for the quicker pace at USC before leaving, Tapp said they couldn’t fully adapt until they got to China and played matches.
That adaptability could serve Tapp well in her future development.
“Having to travel and be outside your comfort zone and be able to handle that [and] learn how to play with other players that you haven’t had a lot of time with and adjust to them — I think it’s really beneficial just being as young as Hannah is,” Rosen said.
Jack Satzinger contributed to this report.