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Harvard's Wu Steps Up as Libero

By J. J. Shpall, Contributing Writer

Christine Wu stands out on the volleyball court—but not because of her height. In a sport that is synonymous with long legs, Wu’s short stature could have proven to be a detriment. Instead, her passion for the game and relentless work ethic have proven to be more important than a couple of inches.

The team’s co-captain, Wu plays the position of libero, which is volleyball jargon for defensive specialist. The role of the libero is to control the back of the court and initiate passes to the setters, and Wu has excelled at this throughout her career with Harvard.

“She makes our defense and offense systems work well in terms of her ball control in the backcourt,” Harvard coach Jennifer Weiss said.

On the court, Wu utilizes her quickness and her keen ability to read the play of her opponents to transform herself into a kind of human wall—rarely allowing balls to get past her.  Wu credits her vast volleyball experience at all levels of competition in giving her a seemingly intrinsic sense of the court.

Despite wearing kneepads, Wu still gets a fair share of scrapes and bruises on the court because she is constantly sacrificing her body, diving for the balls, and always striving to make a dig.

“I take pride in my position and playing for Harvard,” Wu said. “I love hitting the floor, making those great saving plays.”

Wu—who is generously listed at 5’4, and is the shortest on the team by a considerable margin—has begun her senior campaign with gusto.  The libero’s incredible defensive skills have manifested early this season—amassing 205 digs in the first 10 games of the preseason—which currently puts her number two in the Ivy League in this category.

The senior from Naperville, Ill., has had a very illustrious volleyball career for the Crimson.  Wu has been named All-Ivy honorable mention twice, and took second team All-Ivy honors her sophomore year.

As one of the most experienced players on the team, Wu has had some very memorable moments on the court representing Harvard.  Especially poignant in the defensive player’s mind was her squad’s tightly contested, five-set wins over Ivy League rival Princeton in home matches during the 2009 and 2010 seasons.

“When you play a great team like [the Tigers] and you play up to your potential, that just makes the victory more satisfying,” said Wu.

Princeton seems to be a favorite victim of the Adams resident. Wu recorded 40 digs against the Tigers in another home matchup.

The mark remains her career high for digs in a match.

Wu’s hard work has been evident thus far this season. On the team’s Sept. 9 match-up against Bryant University, Wu’s 26 digs were enough to etch her name in the Harvard women’s volleyball record books for third-most digs in a career.

“[Wu has] definitely matured over the years and is stepping right into the captain role,” Weiss said.  “She works hard, so I think that it rubs off on others around her ... she is leading by example.”

The Harvard women’s volleyball squad has started the season with a solid record of 7-3 in its first three tournaments of the season.  In those tournaments there has been one constant: Wu.

At each of the three tournaments in which the Crimson competed, she has been named to the All-Tournament team.

Off the court, Wu is a standout student. A Human Evolutionary Biology concentrator, Wu spent the past summer working at a Harvard Neurobiology Laboratory.  While spending time in the lab this summer, Wu still found time to train for her fall season by frequenting the Crimson’s weight-lifting center, Palmer Dixon, for early morning workouts.

Medical school is in Wu’s future, but she hopes to first take an unconventional detour: professional volleyball in Europe. In January she will go on an exposure tour in Europe to showcase her abilities to foreign scouts.

But Wu still has a job to get done in Cambridge. The women’s volleyball team hasn’t won an Ivy title since 2004, and Harvard opens its conference slate this weekend with a home match against Dartmouth, a team that denied the Crimson twice last year.

If Harvard is to break through this year, it will need its smallest player to step up and deliver another big performance.

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