BEIJING, Dec. 18 -- Despite the disappointing defeats to South Korea and Thailand at the Asian Championship, the Chinese women's volleyball team fared well in 2013 under the guidance of star coach Lang Ping.
Lang, nicknamed "Iron Hammer" for her thunderous strikes during her playing days, was appointed head coach for the second time in April.
The 53-year-old was in a similar situation as her first stint from 1995 to 1999 during which she led the team to the 1996 Olympic silver medals.
Expectations were so high for Lang to pull the Chinese team out of doldrums.
China had landed only a third place in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and was shut out of the semifinals in the 2012 Games, after which Yu Juemin then resigned as head coach.
"It will be a very tough job to turn a new chapter for the Chinese team in a short period of time. But I will make sure steady progress of the team," Lang said after her appointment.
Lang reshuffled the team, leaving out several London Olympic players including setter Wei Qiuyue and middle blocker Ma Yunwen and recruiting four youngsters, namely, Liu Xiaotong, Li Jing, Zhu Ting and Yao Di.
The new squad had started well by beating Puerto Rico, Cuba and Thailand to win a four-team tournament in May.
About three months later, China came second at the 2013 FIVB World Grand Prix Finals in Sapporo, Japan, where the 3-0 loss to Brazil was the regrouped team's first in 20 matches.
Lang was trying to test different players and line-ups throughout the World Grand Prix, even resting Zhu Ting, first outside hitter of the World Grand Prix Dream Team.
However, life is not always as smooth as one wishes. Two weeks later, the Chinese team met its waterloo defeats to host Thailand and South Korea at the Women's Volleyball Championship in Nakhon Ratchasima.
The Chinese team ended its Thailand journey with a fourth, the worst ever result since the the first Asian Championship in 1975.
The upset losses were the price paid for growing up.
One month later, the Chinese took a sweet revenge, beating South Korea in straight sets in the Asian qualifiers for the world championship.
"Ups and downs are normal," said Lang after the South Korea game. "The most important thing is about moving on and progressing."