By Nick Pantages
As the final whistle echoed through Blake Arena on the last day of tryouts, graduate forward Xingrui Liu was elated to hear from head coach Naomi Graves that she had made the women’s basketball team for the 2022-23 season.
Known on the team as Q, Liu’s journey from Fangchenggang High School in the Gangkou District of China to Springfield College was defined by her love of basketball.
“I was pretty sure this is my place when I knew Springfield was the birthplace of basketball,” Liu said.
Growing up in China, Liu’s mother, Yiru, was a professional basketball player. This started her love for the sport, as she was constantly surrounded by it. China as a nation has a soft spot for basketball, as many follow the Chinese Basketball Association very closely.
As Yiru played professionally and as Xingrui stayed close by, she started to play more and more. Eventually, when she got older, she began to teach many kids of all ages how to play the game. This was enjoyable for her, but nothing was better than when Liu had the opportunity to hone her craft.
“Training with my trainer was my favorite part, I learned a lot of advanced basketball skills from them. I could train twice a day with an hour of high intensity training,” Liu said.
After those training sessions as both a teacher and a learner, Liu played for Wuhan Sport University, in Wuhan, China.
Liu played basketball at the Academy, but described how different playing the game was in China compared to her new home in America.
“I still remember when I missed three-point shots, my teammates and coach were trying to kill me, they were like: get your ass inside, grab your rebounds, forget the three-point shot.”
While in Wuhan at the Academy, Liu was well-versed in sports training, and her love for basketball drove her to the Exercise and Science program on Alden Street.
Liu knew she wanted to play here, and after making the team as a walk on, she developed some close bonds. One of these players was junior Riley Robinson.
Liu described that following the initial feeling of joy after making the team, Robinson was one of the first players to embrace Liu, telling her, “Let’s go pick out your own locker.”
Another player that was very inviting of Liu was first-year Carrie Hess.
“I like to check in on her and make sure she is doing well by sending her a quick text, asking how her day went, or simply asking if she is okay after a hard day.” Hess said.
Adjusting to a new culture is never easy, but teammates like Robinson and Hess help make it easier.
“It is obviously a challenge to develop a new sense of lifestyle and social norms when you travel to a new community, never mind a new continent,” Robinson said. “I have just tried to be as welcoming and approachable as possible.”
The feeling of comfort that Liu’s teammates give her is definitely noticed.
“This is the place where I think my comfort zone is. I am becoming more outgoing on this team,” Liu said.
As she is learning English, having to speak it in front of groups of people is challenging. But her teammates have made that transition no issue at all.
“On this team, I don’t really have to care about my grammar and word mistakes,” Liu said.
The way her teammates treat her definitely helps her adjust to her time with them, but also helps her adjust on the court as well.
Liu said, “If I miss [a three], they wouldn’t complain about that, just encourage me to shoot the next one when I was super open.”
Although she is yet to appear in a game, Liu makes her real impact off the court. Her positive attitude and leadership make her an essential part of the team.
“She is the first person to high-five her teammates and tell them how well they are doing,” Hess said.
This uplighting nature provided a calming sense to the team.
“She goes out of her way to bring positive energy to practices and games,” Robinson said.
Liu’s ability to constantly boost the morale of the team made her a popular figure, and many of her teammates see her as a leader. Hess summed it up best by saying, “I aspire to be as great of a teammate as she is.”
Liu also attempts to make sure her peers are well prepared at practice, constantly pushing them to do all the little things that will make them a better team in the long run.
“She always tries to make the starters better by focusing on small details, like rebounding,” Robinson said.
Liu’s dedication to practice and preparation has led her to always be ready when her name is called.
Hess said, “Before practices and games, you will find Q on her iPad studying the plays …she shoots extra shots before and after practices.”
With this, the struggles of being an international student-athlete are very challenging due to how hard it is to immerse yourself within a new culture. But Xingrui (Q) Liu is using her love of basketball as a tool to make the transition easier – and her teammates’ support is only helping her even more.
Photo: Springfield Athletics