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Demirkol finding success in new surroundings

Bradley freshman Silan Demirkol smiles after a point. Photo courtesy of Josh Schwam/Bradley Athletics

It’s been a season of transition for Silan Demirkol. 

The Istanbul native has had to adapt to life in the United States while managing the challenges of adjusting to NCAA Division I volleyball. According to her, it’s been so far, so good on both fronts. 

“I’m very happy with my school and my friends so far,” Demirkol said. “Being a freshman and being able to play Division I volleyball is hard, but I think I can handle it well. My teammates and my coach have helped me a lot.” 

Demirkol has found her rhythm on the court in the month of October with 52 kills in seven matches. The Braves have notched a 4-3 record since she made her first appearance of the season in a four-set win over Southern Illinois on Oct. 1. 

Given the competitive club volleyball scene in her native country of Turkey, the freshman’s success is anything but unexpected. 

“She’s definitely brought a lot of valuable knowledge,” Bradley head coach Carol Price-Torok said. “She’s been in big situations and big matches, so I think that’s something she’s not afraid of. She wants the ball; you can see her looking at the setter saying, ‘Send me the ball, I got this.’”

There are a few inherent differences between NCAA volleyball in the United States and the way the game is played overseas — the ball isn’t quite the same and several aspects of the game, including rotations, are handled differently. 

Also complicating matters was that Demirkol joined the team about a month late in the offseason. With her quick-learning nature and the help of her teammates, including fellow Istanbul native and teammate Doga Topcicek, Demirkol was able to quickly overcome the hurdles.

“She’s going through the same things that I did last year,” Topcicek said. “When she has a problem, I know what she’s going to struggle with. So she’s kind of lucky to have me. I’m also lucky to have her, to just talk for a couple minutes. It’s nice to have her.” 

Demirkol is also adjusting to the language barrier inherent to life in a new country. 

“Everything is different,” Demirkol said. “I’m speaking another language … English is kind of tough for me.” 

As Demirkol became familiar with her new surroundings on the Hilltop, having Topcicek around was a major help. While they never played on the same team, the two knew each other from their time in Turkey.

Now, they and the rest of the Braves are finding success as adversity creates new opportunities. 

Demirkol looks up during Bradley’s match against Illinois St. on Oct. 18. Photo courtesy of Josh Schwam/Bradley Athletics

“I feel she’s doing good,” Topcicek said. “I hope that she’s gonna [keep it up]. This year, we have a really big team … we’re able to keep doing what you’re doing, even with injuries, because we have a big team.”

It was Price-Torok and the rest of the Braves’ coaching staff who were instrumental in bringing Demirkol to Bradley. 

Demirkol and Topcicek both come from a competitive volleyball environment in Turkey that saw the former play against players far older than she was. 

“Here, we are all at the same age; we are all at the same level,” Demirkol said. “In Turkey, I play with old ladies because there is no age limit there. I think the competition is much better here.”

With the Braves approaching key home matches against Drake and Northern Iowa this weekend, Demirkol’s next step is continuing to improve. The outside hitter is already currently third on the team in kills per set, averaging nearly two over her first 27 sets. 

The Bulldogs and Panthers both present good opportunities for Demirkol to do that, as they enter the weekend eighth and ninth in the Missouri Valley Conference standings, respectively. 

“At the end of the day, she’s just playing volleyball and I think that’s one of the reasons why she’s so successful,” Price-Torok said. “She’s not trying to overthink it. She’s using what she gets and making things happen. She’s fast like Hannah Thompson — obviously a little bit smaller physicality-wise — but I think that also is easier for our setters because they can deliver both within the same ball.” 

As the Braves gear up for a run at the postseason, Demirkol is finding her groove at the right time. So too are the rest of the Braves, who have grown closer to create a family environment. 

“I’m trying to be my best,” Demirkol said. “As a team, we’re trying to be one of the best in the conference right now and there is no reason for us to fail. We are working very hard.”

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