When foreign exchange student Kyoko Inagaki joined the Brocton Lady Bulldogs' varsity volleyball team, head coach Andy Deakin had no clue what to expect.
What he got was the team's best server, one of the team's best passers and an athlete who is always positive.
Inagaki is from Tokyo, Japan, and before this season, had never played organized volleyball.
OBSERVER Photo by Roger Coda
Above, the Brocton Lady Bulldogs pose for a photo with foreign exchange student Kyoko Inagaki during a recent volleyball match. Below, Inagaki is seen in action. Inagaki is from Tokyo, Japan and has been the team’s leading player in many major categories.
"Usually when we get an exchange student, they never had any experience at all in the sport," Deakin said. "It's more just a fun learning experience. Kyoko is one of my main starters. She came with good fundamental skills - especially bumping, which is something our team is weak in. It became apparent very quickly she was going to be on the court in some role. She had good fundamentals all the way. She is our most consistent server."
And while the ball is in the air during her serve, Inagaki yells "Ace" in her native tongue.
Inagaki's only other experience in the game of volleyball came during class tournaments in Tokyo. She said what has helped her be so successful in serving is she likes to play badminton.
"The timing is very similar," she said.
A noticeable difference has been the height of opposing players.
"In Japan, I am tall," said Kyoko, who stands 5-foot-5 inches tall. "Girls in Ellicottville were very tall and a strong team. Ellicottville number 12 is very strong ... I don't know formations and switches. I get a little confused. Japanese volleyball is very loose."
Asked what her favorite part of volleyball is, she said, "I like spike."
One of the obstacles Deakin faces is the communication barrier. What confuses Deakin is also the reason the team loves Inagaki - her million dollar smile.
"She is always smiling and always positive, so I'm never quite sure if she really understood what I said or if she is just smiling and nodding," Deakin laughed. "She never seems to be lost. It might be because she observes and picks it up, or she understands what I am saying."
Inagaki is also getting praise from her teammates.
"In the past, we really haven't had people who were experienced," teammate Kayde Putcher said. "Kyoko, being more experienced, helps our team. She has a good serve, a good spike and she makes everyone laugh and smile. We always like when she tosses the ball up and yells 'Chu Chu' which means focus."
"It's fun when she says it," Deakin added. "She is focused and saying words in Japanese to the rest of the team. She always laughs and smiles afterward. We are all getting a kick out of it. The positive attitude has been great."
While Inagaki says it does not snow in Tokyo, it snows up in the mountains, which are two hours away from her home. She likes to ski and snowboard and is looking forward to hitting the slopes in Chautauqua County.
In the meantime, she is just glad to be a Lady Bulldog.
"I'm very happy to be playing on a nice team," she said.
And the Lady Bulldogs are happy to be playing with her.