Wichert adds

by Sarah Mitchell

In grade school, sporting Converse All-Stars hightops and being the tallest kid in the class were the unwritten requirements for being picked first to play recess kickball.
The little, wormy-looking kid — with glasses taped at the rims and a mop-top hair cut — was always last to be drafted, standing there alone, kicking at the dirt.
Just imagine what Gophers volleyball assistant coach Maurice Batie thought when he saw freshman Yvonne Wichert for the first time on a recruiting trip in Germany.
“There was this 5-foot-10 or 5-foot-11 player,” Batie said, “probably a buck-ten [110 pounds] with blue hair.”
Then he saw her swing her slightly built arm — and put some fierce heat on the ball.
“She was just jumping and sticking the ball,” Batie said. “She had a great arm swing, a great jump and great athleticism. I thought this is a player to keep an eye on.”
Three years later, Wichert is a starting outside hitter on the 22nd-ranked team in the nation, assuming the role of stabilizer for the Gophers passing game. For the R252>sselsheiu, Germany native, learning both on the American court and in the American classroom are what attracted her.
With Oregon and Minnesota as her top choices, Wichert opted to be a Gopher. She credits Batie, who kept in constant contact with Wichert, for her decision.
But Batie said he would have faced stronger competition in the recruiting race if Wichert had been American.
“Had she been in the United States, we would have been in trouble,” Batie said. “She would have been a Fab-50 had she been in the United States.”
Instead, Wichert has earned hero status back home.
“They are very proud,” Wichert said of her family and friends. “Everyone is excited when people come to the U.S. It’s quite a big deal.”
In early August, Wichert officially left her hometown of 90,000 people for Minnesota. The first month was very disruptive — three weeks of training in Japan and a trip to Washington, D.C. — leaving minimal time for the outside hitter to adjust to a foreign country.
“It was overwhelming and I felt very lost,” Wichert said of her first weeks. “My friends and family were all in Germany. Now it’s all right, but for the first two weeks I was homesick.”
The transition to an unfamiliar culture was made smoother by fellow European and teammate Sonja Posthuma, a sophomore from Sneek, Netherlands. And whatever void Posthuma can’t fill will be satisfied in late October when Wichert’s family comes to Minneapolis for a visit.
In the meantime, Wichert continues to grow accustomed to a new culture. Language was the toughest barrier, she said. The outside hitter learned English in the German school system, but never had to use it on a regular basis.
“I think when she first came here, some of our suburban Chicagoans talked so fast, her eyes were doing circles,” Batie said, referring to himself and three Gophers players.
Wichert is studying the psychology of advertising and said that communicating in the classroom has been a challenge.
“I expected what I see here and I knew that everyone speaks English and that it would be hard for me to read my books — especially humanities,” Wichert said.
Besides adjusting to different language and life without what Wichert misses the most — German bread — the freshman prefers volleyball in the United States to the version she played in Germany, saying American volleyball is more professional.
Longer practices and a more defensive-orientated game don’t faze Wichert. In fact, Batie said the American game intrigued Wichert.
“She was just surprised at the amount of time we spent on learning defense and she got to be excited about that,” Batie said. “They hit the ball hard in Germany, but they don’t play a lot of defense.”
In a soccer-crazed country, Wichert said volleyball didn’t receive the strong fan following and exposure it does in America. German crowds averaged only about 300 fans.
“She didn’t have to get up for as many big matches as she does here,” Batie said. “We have big matches every weekend.”
In a conference where seven teams are ranked nationally, the Gophers compete against a threatening team every weekend. But Wichert likes the intensity.
“Everyone is good here, everyone plays very well,” Wichert said. “On my team we had maybe only two people that were good.”
Wichert said the Gophers are no exception to this theory.
“We are really young and are all new together,” Wichert said. “I think we have a great future.”
But when that future turns into the past, Wichert plans to bring her Americanized game back to Germany.
“I think I’ll play professionally and earn some money,” Wichert said. “Hopefully.”