When China Rai Crouch arrived in Tucson, she was a promising opposite who was adapting to being a starting middle for Arizona. She earned a starting spot in her first season only to have it ended by a concussion with effects that lingered for months. The next season, she was supposed to be the Wildcats’ starting opposite, but this time it was a pregnancy that sidetracked those plans.
Figuring out how to tell head coach Dave Rubio and the rest of the coaching staff was difficult. While Rubio says that he’s an “old pro” at dealing with pregnancies on teams he has coached going back to his days at Cal State Bakersfield, it was a completely new situation for Crouch.
“Oh, my goodness,” she said. “I was mainly in shock because I just found out and everything was going through my head. Like, ‘Oh what am I going to do? How will I tell them? Will this affect my scholarship? Will this affect school? Volleyball?’ Just so many things were going through my head, but I knew out of respect for him and the rest of the coaching staff I had to tell him as soon as possible. So I kind of just hunkered down, wrote it out, and just said it word by word until he started asking questions. And, of course, some tears were shed, but he was very respectful. He understood.”
As for how she told her teammates, she decided to let the gossip mill do that.
“I kind of kept it to myself for a little bit,” Crouch said. “I was like, ‘Hey, guys, I’m not gonna be here this year.’ And they’re like, ‘Why?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, just some medical stuff.’ And everyone was trying to figure out like, ‘Oh, my goodness! What’s wrong with China?’ I told maybe one or two, and I knew from being on a team of girls for a long time those two people will soon spread it around the team. So I didn’t know how to come up to them, be like, ‘Hey, guys, I’m pregnant. I’m not coming back.’ So I just told those two people and they did the work for me.”
Hudson was born on Dec. 13, 2021. As they approach his first birthday, Crouch has already learned a lot.
“It’s been very interesting,” she said. “I never knew anything about babies. I was the youngest in my family, and probably the youngest baby I ever held was two. So, with him, it was just learning how do you hold him? How do you change him? Oh, you got to burp him? And he changes every single month, so every month is a new challenge. So it’s been exhausting, but it’s so rewarding, as well, because you see him grow, have a personality. You see the way he looks at you and it’s just like you’re this kid’s whole world. So for me to make it a year and how he is now, I’m very proud of that. It’s a great feeling.”
After taking a year off to give birth and get used to being a mom while living with her mother in Las Vegas, Crouch returned to school and the team in the fall of 2022. It required a lot of support. She has found that support from family, friends, and those surrounding her in the Arizona volleyball program.
Before she suffered another concussion, her mother came to Tucson and stayed with Crouch’s son Hudson when the team went on away trips. She also has had help from a babysitter recommended by a friend. But people within the program have been major sources of support.
“Definitely my team,” Crouch said. “And my coach Rita Stubbs, also a big support. My team’s always saying like, ‘I can’t believe you came back! This is crazy. You’re playing volleyball. You have a baby.’ And I’m just like, ‘Yeah, I know.’ It’s exhausting, but those words of them saying, ‘We’re so proud of you. You’ve got this!’ really helps me keep going.”
Despite the demands of being an associate head coach and having her own family, Stubbs takes time to help with the baby so Crouch can do other things.
“It’s hard being a single mom, not that I was ever a single mom,” Stubbs said. “A single mom who’s trying to do school full time and do a professional job, which is volleyball. It can wear on you day-to-day. And so, when she first shared that she was pregnant, I said, ‘China, I’m here for you no matter what it is.’”
Fifth-year senior Zyonna Fellows was also a big help to Crouch. The pair were roommates this year.
“I love little Hudson,” Fellows said. “He loves me. And it felt good to be able to help China because I know it can be hard to be a parent. I’m not a parent, but I know it’s hard. So it felt good just being there to help her out whenever she needed it.”
After games, Crouch often brought her son to see her teammates.
“I love him,” said senior libero Kamaile Hiapo. “So sweet.”
As for Crouch, it was important not only to be a good mother but to do it while pursuing her lifelong dream. She wanted her son to know that tough times don’t have to mean giving up on all the things you want.
“A lot of people asked me before coming back to school, ‘Oh, is this it for you? Are you gonna quit? Are you just gonna go to school and work? Are you just gonna quit volleyball?’” Crouch said. “And I didn’t want that. I didn’t want to, because I had a baby, to just quit everything. Because I worked so hard to get where I’m at right now. worked so hard to get the scholarship and come to a Pac-12 school, which was always my dream. So I kind of just want to show people that there are ways to get through it. If you have a little bump or big bump, in this case, like a big bump in the road, there’s ways to get there. You don’t have to drop everything.”
That’s something she wants everyone to know, but she especially wants Hudson to learn it.
“As long as you’re creative—safe but creative—and organized, I’m sure you could get it done,” Crouch said. “So I definitely want to be able to prove that to myself. Prove that to other people. And when he grows up, I’m hoping he doesn’t get anyone else pregnancy but just saying that he could get through whatever obstacles life throws his way.”