From Turkey to Philly, Temple’s Asci leads Owls on the court

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Temple's Irem Asci ranks in the top 20 in kills per set

One of Temple junior outside hitter Irem Asci’s favorite pastimes is discovering new coffee shops near the Philadelphia school.

“I love the community around the campus and the culture,” she says. “I love the arts and I love nature. I like to take my bike and find new coffee shops.”

During volleyball season, though, that hobby takes a back seat to the high octane the native of Ankara, Turkey, delivers on the court. Her name, by the way, is pronounced “E-rem, Ost-CHEW.”

Asci ranks in the top 20 in the NCAA in kills per set (4.37) and in the top 30 in total kills (376).

“One of the biggest improvements Rem’s made this season is becoming a more versatile hitter,” Owls coach Bakeer Ganesharatnam says. “She’s more of a multi-dimensional hitter now. She has solutions for problems, such as when she faces big blocks.”

That versatility has helped Asci post seven matches of 20 or more kills, including a career high 28 on 66 swings (31 total points) in a match against UConn earlier this season. The 2015 all-AAC first-team selection registered 409 total kills last year in 32 matches to go with 283 digs. She’ll easily surpass those totals and then some this season.

Temple's Irem Asci
Temple’s Irem Asci

“I’m playing with more consistency than I had last year,” the 5-foot-11 Asci says. “I’m seeing the other side of the net better with where the block and defense is at.”
Ganesharatnam says that versatility is born out of necessity.

“She’s an undersized hitter,” he says. “She faces some big blockers in our conference and it’s hard to hit at a high percentage being a one-dimensional player. Rem has a really good work ethic and she wants to get better. It makes it easy for us to help her improve. She’s a very coachable player.”

And a player Temple’s coaching staff trusts to get the job done. In addition to taking the most swings on the team (911 through mid-week; the next closest Temple player has 589), she also ranks second on the team in digs with 256 and is tops in service aces with 30.

“My serve is something I think I’ve improved the most,” Asci says. “It floats a little more and I do a couple different jump serves. My serving is pretty effective and that helps the team out. Serving is very important. It’s what starts off the match. It’s important to start a play strong and it helps make our jobs easier when we are serving better.”

Asci played her freshman year at UNC-Charlotte (for former Turkish youth national team coach and Florida State associate head coach Gokhan Yilmaz), but transferred to Temple for a number of reasons.

“The coaching staff fully changed there and they didn’t have the major I wanted,” she says. “I decided to make a change and I’m so happy I did make a change. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Temple is a great school with great academics and a great volleyball program. It feels like home here.”

Her actual home is back in Turkey where she started playing the sport in the fifth grade.

“I played on the youth national team there,” she says. “Volleyball is different in Turkey, it’s more of a hobby where here it’s more professional and like a job. The offenses are faster and the libero serves here. We do a lot of conditioning and lifting. It’s more intense.”

Asci comes from a strong family sports lineage in Turkey. Her mom was an accomplished judo athlete, while her dad was a national team handball player and now coaches the Turkey national handball team. Her younger brother plays basketball and handball.

“I have no idea about judo,” she says with a laugh. “I tried to learn some things a couple times.”

Ganesharatnam has seen that family athletic background come to the forefront in the practice gym and in matches.

“Both her parents competed at very high levels in their respective sports so she kind of grew up in a gym,” he says. “She understands the competitiveness and what it takes to be good and to be good at a high level on a consistent basis. That’s helped her become the player she’s become now and the player she will become in the future.”

Asci, who surpassed the 1,000 career kill total earlier this season, says homesickness isn’t bad, but she does miss the Turkish culinary scene, though she is a big fan of the Philly cheesesteak.

“It was easier for me when I was at Charlotte because a friend of mine from Turkey was with me,” she says. “The food is the biggest thing I miss. The food culture is different here. I ran into a couple problems and gained 10 pounds my freshman year. I think I’ve lost them now.”

Asci, who led Charlotte in kills per set her freshman season, says her journey to America revolved around her love for both volleyball and academia. She is a bioengineering/pre-med major at Temple.

“I didn’t want to pick volleyball or my major,” she says. “It’s hard to do both together in Turkey. It’s why I chose to come here. Playing volleyball in Turkey means you are playing professionally with two practices a day. It’s totally separate from school.”

Asci says she hasn’t been home to Turkey since last Christmas but remains in contact with her family through Facetime.

“It’s not that bad because I am surrounded by great people at Temple,” she says. “It’s my second family.”

She closely followed the political unrest (coup attempt) that occurred in her home country earlier this year and made international headlines.

“I was supposed to go home for a week around that time and didn’t go,” she says. “My family is fine. We live in the capital city. My dad had to stay at his work that day until midnight and the rest of my family went to our summer home north of the city.”

Back on the court, Asci likes the way her game has developed this season and likes the direction the Owls are headed with the conference tournament starting to appear on the horizon.

“Our serving and defense are working really well right now,” Asci says. “That makes our setter’s job easier and makes my job easier as a hitter. We’re playing smart volleyball.”

Temple, 16-6 overall and 9-3 in the American Athletic conferences, sit two games  behind conference frontrunner Southern Methodist (11-1) and a game behind Cincinnati (10-2).

This weekend the Owls play at Houston on Friday and at Tulane on Saturday. Look for Asci to be fully on the forefront in those matches.

“Rem really wants to help the team,” Ganesharatnam says. “She understands in order to do that she has to improve and she needs to get better on a consistent player.

“Rem is a very happy person. She’s optimistic and is a glass-half-full person. That translates onto the court. She’s very emotional but in a way that’s positive for the team. That’s her biggest trademark and her best quality.”

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