Volleyball

Syracuse recruiting overseas through Leonid Yelin’s connections

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Head coach Leonid Yelin first talked to Anastasiya Gorelina when she was 8 years old. Now, she's his player at Syracuse.

UPDATED: Sept. 7, 2017 at 12:19 a.m.

In 2004, an 8-year-old Anastasiya Gorelina first spoke to then-head coach of Louisville Leonid Yelin in their home country of Uzbekistan. Thirteen years later, she plays for him at Syracuse.

“I saw a tall kid running around the gym,” Yelin said. “It looked like one day she was going to be a good player.”

Yelin’s instincts have proved to be correct. Gorelina, now a junior at Syracuse playing under Yelin, is one of four players on the roster who played high school volleyball outside of the United States. Since 2011, when Yelin took over as head coach at SU, 21 internationally-recruited players have played for him.

Gorelina grew up watching and admiring volleyball teams from Europe and the U.S., never imagining she would one day play for one. Even after coming to the U.S., she did not believe she was suited to play Division I.

“When I came here,” Gorelina said, “I was wondering how everyone was playing so well. I was like, ‘I am so bad.’”

Teammates and the Syracuse coaching staff assimilated her to SU, Yelin in particular. The connection between the two, both hailing from Uzbekistan, helped Gorelina acclimated with the playing style in the U.S.

Mariia Levanova, also a junior, was a two-time Russian professional club champion before coming to the U.S. Yelin, who also speaks Russian, discovered Levanova through coaches he knew in Russia. Levanova came home one day to her mother and there was Yelin, waiting for her. It shows how Yelin’s overseas connections not only help him foster relationships with his recruits, but that coaches help him discover top talent.

“It’s all about who you know when finding players,” Syracuse associate head coach Erin Little said. “Coach (Yelin) has a lot of connections over there.”

As for where Yelin decides to recruit, Little explained there is no plan. He focuses neither on international recruits over domestic nor which countries he wants to visit.

“Coach said he’d take a good player from the moon,” Little said.

The story has been updated for appropriate style.

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