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Breaking down the communication wall

When it comes to international players Rhonda Shirley, head coach of the TJC volleyball team, said a common desire to win helps overcome language obstacles.

Shirley, who guided the Apaches to a national runner-up last year, said that during her career, she has coached about 20 players from outside of the United States.

This year, three international players are on the nationally ranked squad: Aleksandra Gligoric, a 6’2″ freshman middle blocker from Krupanj, Serbia; Eileen Acuna, a 5’11” freshman outside hitter from Risaralda, Columbia; and Jessica Oliveira, a 6’1″ freshman right side hitter from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“Having international players can present obstacles … the biggest being a language barrier,” said Shirley, who took over the TJC program in 2010 after 13 years as coach at Hutchison (Kansas) College.

“The style and the play of the game is pretty much the same (everywhere),” said Shirley, adding that the challenge lies in “just trying to explain the technique or how you want them to do something or to change something and they might not always understand (what you are saying).”

Shirley said that many of the international players she has coached were brought to her attention by coaches in four-year colleges who want a player to come to TJC first in order to improve their sports and English-language skills.

“(Coaches from) four-year colleges place them here a majority of the time,” she said. “(They are) either former players of mine who are now coaching at the four-year level or other four-year colleges who … will find someone whose English speaking skills are not high enough for the four-year level. After two years at TJC, the four-year college will often then sign the player to a scholarship.”

Charles Smith, assistant athletic director at TJC, said that National Junior College Athletic Association regulation restrict the number of international athletes that can be on any one team.

As far as athletic eligibility is concerned, the NJCAA classifies students as either “plus-three or minus-three,” Smith said. Minus-three students, who typically are from outside the United States, attend less than three years at an American high school. Only 25 percent of students on a junior college roster of any team can be classified as –minus-three.

Gligoric who was a member of the Junior National Team of Serbia that won the Junior European Championship 2012, said she wants to help the Apaches become national champions.

“I want my team to be better,” Gligoric said. “We we want to be first because last year we were second.”

Coach Shirley said Gligoric’s attitude of wanting to do better than last year is do better this year than last year is shared by other on the team. “You have to have that feeling of not finishing first … that unfinished business feeling. I feel that should be motivation enough.”

The team began the season ranked fifth in the nation and was 12-1 through its first 13 games.

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