China's Loss is the USA Women's National Team's Gain

Dec. 16, 2017, 8 a.m. (ET)

It was several years in the making, but USA Team Handball’s Director of High Performance, David Gascon, finally landed the highly respected Chengfen He, known as Fen, as a volunteer Assistant Coach of the USA Women’s National Team (WNT).  “The back story is actually pretty interesting,” remarked Gascon.  Fen joined the Auburn Residency program in October, where she serves as Head Coach Christian Latulippe’s Assistant and Head Development Coach of the Auburn University/USA Team Handball Women’s National Team Residency Program. 

As Gascon explained it, “I received a call from an aerospace sales engineer by the name of Doug Franklin, who wanted to tell me all about his wife, Fen, and her major successes in Team Handball.  He was obviously a proud spouse and certainly wasted no time in telling me not only how wonderful a coach Fen was, but how much she loved the United States and wanted to coach our women.  He indicated she was constantly being pressured to coach in China and that the Chinese were intensely trying to get her back into the country permanently.  The family was residing in Texas, outside of Dallas, and Fen’s young daughter Co Co was attending school in the area.  Doug thought Fen would be a great asset to the WNT.”    

After many months of exchanges of emails and many phone calls, Gascon was convinced Fen’s resume and her reputation as an exceptional development coach warranted further consideration.  Gascon invited Fen to Auburn so that he and Coach Latulippe could meet her and interview her in person.  Having only a limited number of WNT players at Auburn at the time, it was determined that Fen should be given an opportunity to meet with the players and actually conduct practice for a couple of days. 

According to Captain Sarah Gascon, “Fen was amazing in how she handled the players and how she dealt with fundamentals.  We’ve never seen such remarkable technique and she made such a great impression on us that we wanted her right away.”  Unfortunately, that was not possible at the time for a variety of reasons.  Yet, the players weren’t the only people impressed by Fen’s coaching during that week.  Latulippe was also elated with what he saw.  He and Gascon immediately decided that if the opportunity ever arose to get Fen to Auburn that the WNT would really benefit from her coaching skills.

Fen’s resume is extraordinary.  She was one of China’s top Women’s National Team players from 1992 until she suffered a terrible knee injury as the team prepared for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.  Fen not only missed the Games, but the government never properly treated her injury and the lack of knee stability eventually led to her premature retirement from playing.

As a player, Fen played every position on the court at the junior level, eventually finishing as a center back.  Fen subsequently earned the center back position on the Chinese Women’s National Team.  She also served as a player coach for two years, which convinced Fen that she would really enjoy being a coach.  After her injury, Fen coached in a variety of assignments, from provincial assistant coach for five years, to head coach for 3 years.  She served as the Chinese Junior National Team Head Coach for one year, leaving that assignment for a highly coveted Changzhou City Head Coach position for eight years. Fen coached youth and juniors and developed her program into the most successful programs in the land, winning gold medals in all competitions for each age bracket for two, four-year periods.

A permanent, unrestricted immigrant to the USA, Fen was still under constant pressure to coach in China.  She coached off and on for several years and as the pressure mounted to become a major part of the Chinese program for the future, Fen and Doug decided as a family that they preferred to live in the USA, specifically Auburn if the opportunity to coach the WNT arose.  While the family was sorting out their future, Gascon and Latulippe were looking for an opportunity to recruit Fen to serve as an assistant and to head the development program for new athletes.  When Gascon reached out, Fen immediately accepted the opportunity to take the position.

Fen now finds herself in France, serving as the WNT Assistant Head Coach in her first USATH WNT international competition.  Fen, Head Coach Latulippe, and Assistant Coach Julio Sainz, are all anxious to see their new athletes play with the veterans against higher caliber teams.  For Latulippe, it’s also a great opportunity to watch Fen coach fundamentals to all the WNT players.