Most high school athletes take the usual path to the varsity. They find a sport they enjoy at an early age, play in elementary school, junior high and oftentimes on the various club teams offered for their sport of choice. Once they get to Pioneer or Huron or Skyline, they will play freshman or JV and then finally land on the varsity team.
That is the usual path for most, but Jennifer (Feichi) Yu took a completely different route to the Huron High School varsity volleyball team. It was a much longer journey and one with different kinds of challenges than most local high school athletes have to face.
So let’s start there – and for Yu, “there” was China, where she was born and raised. “Here” is where she is now, living with her family in Ann Arbor and attending Huron High School. Let’s just say she’s glad to be here. Well, let’s let her say it.
“I would say the US is a place where you encourage yourself and pursue what you want,” says Yu. “I’m not saying that China restricted me, but the US provides me with more possibilities. My life has always been busy, but being busy in China is just stressful and aimless studying. However, being busy here is more like fighting for what I want.”
And what Yu wants is a lot – and why not. She’s set some pretty big goals, established high expectations for herself and is preparing herself to make a difference in the world. She has this opportunity and she is going to take full advantage of it.
Yu arrived in the US in August 2019 at the age of 16.
“I’ve always wanted to enjoy a life that allows both volleyball and academics, and I think America is the right place for me,” she says. “My dad is a visiting scholar (at U-M) and I came here with him.”
This is Yu’s second time living in Ann Arbor. She lived here with her dad for a year when she was 10.
So, what is the transition like for a young lady moving from China to Ann Arbor, Michigan?
“I was kind of nervous, but the excitement covered the nervousness,” she says of her early days in Michigan. “Coming to a new place means meeting new people and having to be involved in a totally different culture. I wasn’t really confident about that, but all my friends, teammates and coaches are so nice, they helped me pass through the toughest time.”
And there were plenty of things to like.
“I like America’s education system as well as how people respect and understand student athletes,” she says. “I like Ann Arbor’s snow. I’ve only seen snow once in my life before I came here.”
She also likes volleyball, an interest served up by her mother.
“My mom is a huge fan of volleyball,” she says. “She found me a team after she realized my body shape would be a great fit for volleyball. I love hitting, love passing, love setting. I just love the feeling of controlling the ball in my hand.
“I think the most attractive part about team sports is that you always have each other on the court. Only when all six of us work as a whole, can we win the game.”
Huron volleyball coach Toney Cummer has coached plenty of outstanding volleyball players including many who have gone on to play at the next level. He definitely sees that ability in Yu.
“Jenny is very talented and could play at the collegiate level,” Cummer said. “She’s improved tremendously since she has been with us and was one of our go-to players on court this year.”
Yu says she didn’t receive the quality coaching she has gotten since serving it up at Huron and credits her improvement to Cummer and his staff as well as her hard work.
“I didn’t get coached a lot back in China due to the conflict between study and sport,” she said. “Huron is the first place that I actually get to practice efficiently. I think the improvement definitely didn’t come out of nowhere. I think it’s the product of all my hard work this year, and even including my workouts during quarantine.”
The quarantine and pandemic also have been challenging but Yu says in a way it’s allowed her a chance to improve on some of her weaknesses on and off the volleyball court.
“I’m really good at teaching myself, both in study and volleyball,” she says. “It might be shocking, but I learned hitting myself through all those online videos. I also self-studied AP Calculus and got a 5 for the test in May.
“The pandemic was/is a great chance for me to work on my weaknesses. For example, my core strength used to be really weak and that actually caused a lot of problems. With the time during quarantine, I got to focus on all those ab’s workouts which might be one of the reasons I was playing better on the court later in the season.”
Huron had a strong season in volleyball. They defeated Pioneer 3-2 in a District semifinal match before falling in the District 17 final to state-ranked Skyline on Nov. 6 in Dexter.
“My team is amazing,” Yu said before the start of Districts. “I love all my teammates. They’re not only all fantastic players, they are also great friends in life.
“I think our team has the spirit of never stop fighting. We played Dexter in a tournament and we fell behind 12-2. However, we kept fighting and we took it back and finished the game at 27-25. Sorry, I feel like it’s showing off but I’m still excited from that.”
No reason to be sorry. No reason not to be excited. And no reason not to think Yu has set up a great future for herself and that future includes a stop at the prestigious Wellesley University.
“Wellesley focuses on helping students to become the ideal person and that’s exactly what I’m looking for,” Yu says. “I’m going to study Economics and Psychology. Yes, I did contact the coach and some of the players, but we didn’t get to see each other in person yet.”
She has clearly found her place here in the US and she’s going to take advantage of it in every way she can.