Turkish Delight

Turkish Delight

By Michael Melvin

Families of Tar Heels from all around the nation gathered together to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday in late November, but very few had a reunion as sweet as that of senior volleyball player Ece Taner. Osman and Neslisah Taner trekked across the Atlantic Ocean from Izmir, Turkey more than 5,000 miles to spend nearly a month in the United States visiting family in Charlotte and most importantly their daughter Ece, one of the stars of Carolina's volleyball team. On Wednesday, November 26, the Tar Heels knocked off no. 21 Duke in a five-set thrilling victory and two days later they clinched their first ACC championship since 2008 with a three-set sweep of Wake Forest. The Taner family was there for all of it: The win over Duke, Thanksgiving Day, an ACC championship clinching match, and Senior Day. Needless to say, the Taners had quite the 'Turkey Day' holiday.

“I'm so lucky my parents get to come here and stay for a long time,” said Ece. “I'm so grateful that they are able to come, because I've played with foreign players here that never had the opportunity to have their parents come. It's awesome when I get to look up at the stands and see their faces.”

Over the course of Ece's career at Carolina, her parents have made the trip from overseas to visit each year for a month to see her play. With an aunt and uncle living in Charlotte, the parents travel back and forth to Chapel Hill depending on Carolina's schedule to attend games and spend time with their daughter in between. “It's like a family reunion,” said Ece's father Osman. “For us, this has been a great experience.”

The contrast of living five minutes instead of 5,000 miles away allows Ece to spend nights with her parents at hotels in Chapel Hill, grab meals with them on Franklin Street, and hang out with them between classes. “It's the best time,” she said. “It's what I look forward to most in the year. On my calendar I always write 'Happy Days' because when they're here I'm so happy.”

The trip from Turkey to the United States is obviously long, but with a dramatic time difference, adjusting to the new time zone can be the most taxing. The extended month-long stays allow for the Taners to get over the jet lag hump and acclimate, while also allowing for more quality time with their daughter. “We have to travel over 15 hours to get here,” said Osman,.“Jet lag is a killer, and it takes so much to adjust that we try to make it at least 4 weeks so we can enjoy being here.”

When her parents are at home in Turkey, communication can be difficult. Matching their busy schedules in Turkey up with Ece's busy college schedule at Carolina in order to talk is not always easy, but they always find a way. Luckily, the recent upgrade in live coverage from GoHeels.com and ESPN3 has allowed the Taner parents to watch the games of their daughter and one of Carolina's best ever volleyball teams. “We watch all the games online, but because of the time difference we have to get up at 2 or 3 in the morning to watch them,” said Ece's mother Neslisah. “I really was into volleyball with Ece when she was younger, so it is nice to see all these games.”

It was certainly a fitting Thanksgiving for Ece who, in addition to a conference championship, had a handful of other surprises to be thankful for over the holiday. On Senior Day, her aunt and uncle from Charlotte, coach from Turkey, and brother Ahmet all joined her parents in the stands to see her play against Wake Forest. The moment of reunion between Ahmet, who works in Los Angeles, and his younger sister Ece is something that Carolina's libero and her brother may never forget. “I haven't seen Ece in over a year,” said Ahmet. “I don't get to travel here as much. I'm really proud of her. Every time the team plays and wins I'm posting about it on Facebook.”

Last weekend, Carolina hosted the opening two rounds of the NCAA Tournament and advanced to play in the Sweet Sixteen beginning tonight. The faces of the Taner family were missing, but you can bet Osman and Neslisah were following.

“For me it's sad because an era is coming to an end for us,” Osman of his daughter's Carolina career. “But we are now part of the Tar Heels. I'm from USC and Ahmet is from California too, but we support the Tar Heels. We are all converted Tar Heels now!”

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