Q&A: Hualing Yu on Represeting Team China

PHOTO BY ADY KERRY


A member of the Chinese national team, Hualing Yu was first introduced to lacrosse while attending Shanghai University. She was a member of China's first World Cup team in 2017, and is now a veteran leader for the 2022 Chinese team.

Yu answered a few questions heading into the World Lacrosse Women’s World Cup in Towson, Md., which starts on June 29.

1. When and where did you first pick up a lacrosse stick, and can you recall what you did?

Unlike the kids in North America, we pick up lacrosse at a pretty late age. For myself (and I believe most of my China-grown lax teammates), I knew the existence of the sport in the first year of college and started to play in my sophomore year (2011-12). I remember when I was first introduced to the sport, I was pretty judgmental … thinking “what the hell is this sport?! It looks so weird.”

I wasn’t in love with the sport at all until a few months (or a year?) later. A team from Japan visited Shanghai for a friendship tournament. Looking back, I really appreciate their open mind because we didn’t even know the rules, and we were so bad at every basic skill. I still have no idea why they decided to visit. It’s like the Raptors decided to fly to Vietnam to play a few games against a high school team there without getting paid.

The team from Japan was composed of university students and a few post-collegiate lax players. One of them is called Don San, whose name is Akiko Wada, a four-time world cup athlete, an absolute icon in women’s lacrosse in Japan. The game was mind-blowing, watching their passes and catches was mind-blowing, and observing Don San magically dance around with ridiculous stick skills and incredible agility in such a close distance was simply amazing. Before then, I had never seen anyone play lacrosse like that, nor had I watched pro lacrosse on TV (obviously there’s no lacrosse in China, and YouTube is blocked, and I was too young to know how to use VPN). I was so inspired by Don San, and after the game, I made up my mind that I wanted to become the best lacrosse player in China.

After they left, I tried my best to keep in touch with them. Most of the Japanese players, including Don San, did not speak English, so I learned Japanese. I devoted probably 90 percent of my spare time to digging into all the lacrosse materials that I could find, watching lacrosse videos, decoding the techniques and self-teaching. It’s safe to say that I was in crazy love with this new sport, and I think I have been since then. It is unfortunate that we happened to have very limited resources (short of coaches, no teams to compete with locally, etc.), but it is very fortunate that there are people who share the same level of passion and enthusiasm even with limited resources and stay in love with the sport for years.

Here’s a photo taken in March 2012 at my university campus in Shanghai. Maybe 90-plus percent of the local Chinese women’s laxers at that point were in this photo (yes, out of 670 million — it’s that unpopular). As you can tell from the current squad, not many of us went this far. I hope we can grow the game and see more young faces in the future.

PHOTO COURTESY OF SHANGHAI UNIVERSITY







2. Describe the best moment you ever experienced in lacrosse, whether it be a particular moment, your thoughts or an actual event, etc.

There are too many best moments with lacrosse.

Lacrosse offered me opportunities to travel around, meet people from different places and cultures, bond with people who are more than just teammates on the field. It shaped who I am today. I hold sincere gratitude toward what lacrosse has given me; therefore, I have been and will always give back to the sport and the community.

2013 ASPAC in Beijing

This is the first international tournament we attended as Team China. Most of us weren’t familiar with the rules at all. Back then, it was the era that one needs to freeze when the whistle blows. I remember that the refs were so frustrated because we made their job so difficult — they have three on the field, but we have 12, and probably nine of us would constantly move while not supposed to. They were very much short of staff to correct all of us.

The score of our games were also jaw-dropping — ridiculous enough to make people think it’s the score of a basketball game. The first game we had against Japan ended 43-0. I believe it’s also running clock. As a player in the game, I felt there’s a goal every 10 seconds. Basically, before I finished rewinding the beautiful goal Team Japan just scored, there came another. “Wow, that was amazing” is the repeated sentence that I said internally throughout the entire game.

I felt I learnt more in those ASPCA games than I could ever in a whole year of practices. Four days later when we played Japan again, the score was only 33-0. Not sure if Japan slowed down at all or by how much, but I truly believe that we improved as a team in mere days. Everyone was getting better at the rules, which I think was the only thing we could focus on at that point. As you can imagine, our net was attacked hundreds of times during the tournament, and our goalie Xiao Ba was not complaining at all. After every game, there were new bruises added to her tattoo collection. That just made me think goalie is the greatest position on the field, and as her teammates, we should do better defense to protect her from getting hurt.

The teamwork was not only done on the field. It was 2013, and most of us were poor students. Even when the tournament was in Beijing with transportation only costing less than 80 U.S. dollars one way, the hotel and team registration fee would still amount to lot for our team of students. We did one or two rounds of fundraising, which only worked out due to great teamwork. I remember we also celebrated Ariel’s birthday at the hotel. It feels more than a team, but a strong community and even family.

Lastly, I scored my very first goal (and the only goal Chinese players scored the entire tournament) of my international lacrosse career when we played Korea as a mixed team with USA Starz, a club team consisting of casual laxers looking for some fun. I still remember how hard my heart was beating when I was waiting for the whistle of the free shot. The eight meters felt closer and farther, just not the same, than the one we had in practice. I went in, aiming at the bottom right corner, and shot as hard as I could. The ball hit the side of the goalie’s leg and then hit the ground. I watched the ball roll in the net with my heart pounding almost out of my chest. The ball slowed down, at the other side of the goal line. It was a truly rewarding moment.

2015 ASPAC in Thailand

This was probably the most interesting and challenging one that we played. Back then, we were not only lacking players, but also coaches. We went there without any coach or staff, just a team of enough players to not have to play woman-down. We did not have uniforms, so we just shopped at a local clothing store and taped the number on the T-shirt. Later, we successfully borrowed an assistant coach from Hong Kong, but we played against Hong Kong with players rotating coaching role as the coach couldn’t help us against their own team.

The power of teamwork never failed to amaze me. I think we had the best game in that tournament playing Hong Kong, even without a coach. Hong Kong had a few plays which made us struggle a lot in the beginning. We named one of them “bubble,” where one team creates a mess by setting up an off-ball crowd on the 8-meter at 45 degrees and on-ball player on the other side of the crowd, and then sends one or more cutters from the crowd like bubbles leaving its base. We called for a timeout, but it was too short. Then we discussed at the halftime, and we quickly agreed on a solution, which worked out perfectly. I still feel amazed by how fast we turned it around, and the intelligence of the team. That’s also an important moment for myself to realize how rewarding good defense is.

2017 World Cup in Surrey

It was the first World Cup we played. World Cup has been a dream for most of us. It’s like the Olympics of lacrosse. At the beginning of every game, the national flag was brought on the field, and we sang the national anthem with arms hugging each other. There’s always tears in my eyes. “I made it,” I whispered to the 7-year-old me. I remember since a very young age, the only channel I would tune in is CCTV-5, the official sports channel in China. I love watching the Olympics and other world championships. And I would watch every sport, even if I didn’t know what it was. My body and heart would rhyme with the game, I would feel connected to the athletes on the screen. I understood how upset and frustrated they are when they make mistakes. I felt happy for them when they delivered a good performance. I would sing the national anthem standing up with my palm on my chest when Chinese athletes won first place. I’m proud of being a loyal fan to the Olympics. I was hoping that one day I could sing the national anthem as an athlete.

We were underdogs in that tournament for sure. We were beaten pretty hard by all the teams we played but Colombia. Before the game day against Colombia, coach Morgan and Jesse asked us to write down one piece of detail that we wanted to work on. “Pick up one ground ball,” “fight for one draw control,” “make body contact when the attacker drives into the 8.”

That game I feel we finally played as a team — pressure defense in the midfield during transition, tough defense in the 8 meter. We won the better half of the ground balls, we had multiple scorers on the sheet and we beat them by two points at 8-6. When the final whistle blew, everyone burst into tears and cried so loud, hugging each other on the field to celebrate our first win in Chinese women’s lacrosse team World Cup history.

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