Nicole Blades carries around a little notebook full of Japanese words.
Every week, Miki Shido jots down a few more terms for her Merced College volleyball teammate to learn.
Blades always had a fascination with Japanese culture and Shido -- a student from Nagoya, Japan -- has been happy to teach her.
"She'll write words down for me to look up," Blades said. "Then sometimes in the game she'll say something and I'll catch it and laugh.
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"She's taught me a lot."
The cultural exchange has gone both ways in Shido's two years with the Lady Devil program.
According to her coaches and teammates, Shido has always been able to take instruction.
This season she's sharing a lot more.
"Last year Maki (Matsuka) was on the team," Blades explained. "Miki would say whatever she wanted to say in Japanese and then Maki would translate it."
With another year's study under her belt, Shido is much more comfortable talking to her English-speaking teammates.
She's even known as a bit of a practical joker.
"She's a hard worker. She listens and does everything you ask," MC coach Jessica Casey said. "You do have to watch out for her, though.
"She plays quiet, but she's very sneaky."
Remarkably, the one place Casey has never had to be concerned about Shido's comfort zone is on the court.
It's more impressive when you consider the fact that as a setter, Shido is asked to run the show for the Lady Devils.
It's a position where communication and timing must be perfect, and decisions must be made in a split-second in order to create offensive success.
Shido's managed to do it seamlessly for the last two years, even when she wasn't comfortable with her English.
"I'm very comfortable with my teammates," Shido said. "We have great hitters and so passing is easy.
"I get nervous sometimes, because it's a lot of responsibility.
"You have to think of a lot of things, but we work well together."
Shido developed a set of hand signals and nods while she was building her vocabulary as a freshman.
The Lady Devils' hitters have learned to read these as easily as any verbal command Shido could give.
Teammates say Shido calls out instructions as well, but just like her body signals, they tend to be subtle.
Freshman Laura Meller -- with whom Shido splits setting duties -- appreciates her teammate's approach.
"Setter isn't an easy position," Meller acknowledged. "You always have to be talking and listening.
"Plus, everyone is yelling stuff out at the same time. It can be confusing when you speak English.
"Miki is awesome."
"You have six people in a small space all talking to each other at once," Casey said. "It can be chaotic.
"Miki brings a calming force to the court and the hitters love to hit for her."
That calming force has helped bring some stability to a Lady Devil squad that's been riddled with inconsistency all season.
Shido rejoined the setting rotation after Sam Bussey was dismissed from the team.
MC (3-5 Central Valley Conference, 8-11) won three of its next four contests.
Shido ranks second on the team with 201 assists, and will likely be a driving force as the Lady Devils attempt to secure a playoff spot in the second half of CVC play.
"I was excited when Miki started setting again," Blades said. "She's usually sets for my part of the rotation and we have a pretty good bond.
"If you want a set a little higher, you just have to ask and she does it.
"Miki is very easy to play with."
Sean Lynch is a Sun-Star sports writer. He can be reached at 385-2476 or via e-mail at email@example.com.