By David Willis
---- — Chelsea Hu never could have imagined it. Her father, Guoan, never would have believed it. Longtime volleyball coach George Sullivan couldn’t predicted it.
Chelsea Hu was ... loud?
“When I lead cheers before games, people look at me and say, ‘Wow, you are loud!’” said Hu with a laugh. “The coaches comment on how loud I am. I used to barely talk. Seeing that change is something I never expected.”
For most of her life, Hu was known as the extremely quiet girl. Teachers always made notes on her report cards encouraging her to speak up. She preferred to fade into the background whenever possible.
“She was so quiet when she first got to the team that you were afraid to talk to her about something because you thought she might cry,” Sullivan said. “We didn’t know if she could become a captain and tell people what to do. But she has been incredible.”
Over the last three years, Hu emerged as a star both on the court and off, becoming a vocal leader and All-Conference outside hitter for the Andover High volleyball team that won the Division 1 North title and advanced to the Division 1 state semifinals this season.
“She was very, very shy as a child,” her father said. “But once she started playing volleyball, she became more confident. She seemed to gain mental toughness from coming through in big games.”
Hu was born in Baltimore where her parents, both natives of China, moved so her father could study at Johns Hopkins University. At just a few months old, she then moved with her family to California for her father’s job, then to Revere when her dad was hired as a computer researcher in the physics department at Boston University. The family then moved to Andover.
Hu admits that she was extremely shy growing up.
“I was afraid to talk to anyone,” said Hu, who has twice traveled to China. “I was an only child, and combine that with growing up in a home with two parents that had just moved from China and that we spoke Chinese at home. I was always worried there was a language and culture barrier.
“I thought I was different. Teachers would write notes home to my parents saying, ‘Chelsea is a good kid, but she needs to use her voice more and it would help to participate in class.’”
Hu discovered an outlet in volleyball. She began to play the sport in an Andover elementary school program and then played club in middle school. By the middle of her sophomore year at Andover High, she was a member of the varsity team — sooner than she ever expected.
“We were playing our rival Central Catholic,” she remembered. “I had just played well in the JV game and was sitting on the sidelines relieved there was no way I was going to play in this big game. We were behind and I heard Coach Sullivan say, ‘Chelsea!’ I looked around and said, ‘What? Why is he saying my name?’
“I went in and everyone was a little confused. But I didn’t do as bad as I thought I would. After that, Coach Sullivan told me not to go to JV practice. He said I was on varsity permanently.”
Volleyball proved to be crucial in helping Hu break out of her shell.
“Volleyball helped a ton because it forced me to communicate,” said Hu, who is looking at Ivy League schools. “I couldn’t just sit there and be silent because I had to talk. Every point you have to call for the ball. You have to communicate with teammates and the coaches. That was when I really stepped out of my comfort zone and started talking to people.”
While the sport was helping her become a stronger person, Hu in turn became a major reason for the Golden Warrior volleyball team’s success.
She was a key member of last season’s squad that went 23-1 and advanced to the Division 1 state semifinals. She finished fourth on the team in digs (47) to go with 23 kills and 18 blocks.
She was even better this season, earning All-Merrimack Valley Conference honors for the Golden Warriors team that closed out the season 23-2 last Wednesday. Hu finished second on the team in kills (187), fourth in aces (46) and third in digs (54).
Hu, who is a member of the National Honor Society and currently enrolled in advanced placement statistics, physics and psychology classes, said she is proud of how her volleyball career finished out.
“Especially as a senior to make it this far has been incredible,” she said. “Coach Sullivan always says this was supposed to be a ‘rebuilding year.’ So to come together and make it that far is really awesome.”
Warriors fall in semifinals
Andover’s magic season came to an end last Wednesday, dropping to Barnstable 3-0 in the Division 1 state semifinals.
Barnstable 3, Andover 0
Kills: Chelsea Hu 8, Madelyn Reppucci 6
Blocks: Reppucci 8, Rachel Schnakenberg 5
Assists: Azita Bakhtyari 21
Service points (aces): Mackenzie Kennedy 14, Addison Kennedy 11 (1)
Digs: Schnakenberg 5, Addison Kennedy 3
Barnstable (23-0): 25 25 25 — 3
Andover (23-2): 16 21 16 — 0