Setting Olympic dreams of volleyball

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Many students are thinking about the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, but members of the BYU men’s volleyball team have their eyes on Rio 2016 and beyond.

BYU’s men’s volleyball team has been a launchpad for many eventual Olympians, and current players at BYU know they may have an opportunity to play on an even bigger stage after they leave BYU.

“I’m really excited. It’s not an opportunity many people can get,” said Taylor Sander, outside hitter. “I’m going to take that and really grasp it, put my work in and do what I need to to get to that spot.”

Former BYU players Ryan Miller (left) and Rich Lambourne (center) celebrate after a win during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Former BYU players Ryan Miller (left) and Rich Lambourne (center) celebrate after a win during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Sophomore Tyler Heap, setter, said it would be incredible to one day play on the Olympic team.

“It’d mean a lot to represent your country and your family on a world stage,” he said. “Playing the best volleyball players in the world in that kind of setting would be a huge honor.”

Most recently, former BYU players Ryan Millar, Rich Lambourne, Russell Holmes and Joel Silva all had the honor of representing their countries in the Olympics. Millar played on the U.S. team in the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games. He and Lambourne helped the United States bring home gold in Beijing in 2008. Joel Silva represented Venezuela in the Beijing games. Holmes played on the U.S. team in 2012 in London.

For BYU’s current players looking to play professional and national volleyball after BYU, sizing themselves up to the competition is not their method of preparation. Instead, they use their personal drive.

“I just try and be the best me I can be,” Sander said. “There are so many great players out there. Hopefully, one day I’ll get to be known as one of the greater players, but you have to just focus on now and not what other people think about you. Be the best you can be.”

The roaring crowds in the Smith Fieldhouse aid these players in their preparation for the atmosphere of the Olympics.

“It’s pressure packed,” Sander said. “Having a big crowd like ours simulates playing in pro matches and in the Olympics. So being able to have pressure and that kind of environment, it’s good for me.”

The crowd is not the only thing assisting players in reaching their goals of playing on a bigger stage. Head volleyball coach Chris McGown said his players are learning to constantly improve and never get complacent — a habit that will cause them to always reach greater heights on the court.

“The biggest lesson they learn while playing at BYU is this idea of a growth mindset — that they’re not fully formed and not a finished product,” he said. “They can still do things to get better. That would be my single biggest message to them. Keep that growth mindset and be patient with the process, just keep working as hard as you possibly can.”

They know they have their work cut out for them to play in the Olympics, but they feel it’s worth the effort.

“The Olympic players are great volleyball players, and I have a lot of hard work to do if I want to reach that level,” Heap said. “But it would be a huge honor and really great blessing to be able to do that.”

Having former BYU players on the Olympic roster would not only be an honor for the players, but for their coach as well.

“There’s a certain amount of pride associated with the fact that you got to be a part of that young man’s life,” McGown said. “And you hope you had a chance to be an influence in a way that would propel them towards that kind of goal and help them along.”

There’s a long road ahead for these Olympic dreamers, but it’s a rewarding one.

“For them to make the team and make the Olympics it’s all almost completely up to them and up to how hard they work after they get out of BYU,” McGown said. “But it’s obviously amazing to see your players go on and see that kind of success.”

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