Bowling Green State University volleyball player Madi Nitta prepares to serve during a Falcons' match. Nitta spent her summer playing for the USA Deaf Volleyball team that won the 2011 Friendship Games at Gallaudet University in Washington.
BOWLING GREEN -- Madi Nitta had a summer to remember.
A senior on the Bowling Green State University volleyball team, Nitta played for the USA Deaf Volleyball team that won the 2011 Friendship Games held at Gallaudet University in Washington in early August.
Nitta, a native of Manhattan Beach, Calif, said she and her family believe she wasn't born with the severe hearing loss she has now.
"My mom said that, around the age of three, I wasn't responding to hearing my name," Nitta said. "We went to a lot of doctors who said there wasn't any hearing loss. But eventually the doctors agreed that there was.
"[When I was very young] I had an allergic reaction to a medication, and we think that was the cause of my hearing loss."
Nitta said her parents didn't allow her to use her hearing problems as any excuse.
"Honestly, there are times I forget I am hearing impaired," she said. "My parents put me through mainstream schools since I was little. I did speech therapy, and here I am: I'm in a four-year college, I don't need an interpreter, I don't use sign language.
"I think I've overcome that challenge."
Recently Nitta tried out for and made the USA Deaf Volleyball team. She said playing on that team is different than playing for the Falcons.
"First, there's a lot of trust required of your teammates because we all had to take our hearing aids out," Nitta said. "We had to use sign language as a tool -- and when I started, I didn't know an ounce of sign language.
"It's a different game, because the players know they have to overcome some challenges. There's a lot of togetherness, a lot of friendship, a lot of cohesiveness on the team."
Nitta said her parents never allowed her to use her hearing loss as an excuse.
The U.S. team was not the favorite to win the Friendship Games, since the squad from the Ukraine had not lost in international competition in six years.
"Before we went into the tournament, we heard that we were going to be competitive with Ukraine," Nitta said. "We knew it had been awhile since the U.S. team had beaten the Ukraine, so we knew the standard was really high.
"I didn't know what to expect, though, because I had never been in an international competition before."
Nitta and her U.S. teammates swept through pool play with a 3-0 record, including a five-set upset of the Ukraine. The U.S. team then swept Canada in the semifinals, with Nitta setting the tone for the match with three straight service aces.
In the championship match the U.S. team again met the Ukraine -- and swept that previously unbeaten team in three sets.
"I think the coach was surprised with the results, because we had a couple of 'rookie' players on the team," Nitta said. "But we played great as a team, which was surprising because we only play together two or three times a year and everyone else plays together year-round."
Nitta said she is a different player because of this international experience.
"I think I'm more aggressive," she said. "In my role as a defensive specialist, I learned to be aggressive in trying to get to balls.
"And the pace of the games helped me to get ready for the pre-season and the season."
BG coach Denise Van De Walle said she noticed a difference in Nitta's game right away.
"Madi came back in August more confident that I've ever seen here," Van De Walle said. "She had playing time with that team -- and I know that team, it's good competition. It's not backyard volleyball.
"Her skills were crisp. Her passing and her serving looked really good."
While Nitta plays a reserve role as a defensive specialist for BG, Van De Walle said she plays a key role on a team that has started the season 9-0, including an upset win over nationally ranked Michigan State.
"Madi is a keeper," Van De Walle said. "She is an extremely hard worker, she's very coachable. She always does whatever you need, and then she goes the extra mile.
"She does a lot for the team. She takes care of us."
Contact John Wagner at: email@example.com or 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.
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