Monday, October 27, 2014

Jamming in Five Questions, Karch Kiraly

I started messing with the "Five Questions" idea shortly after the last ball hit the floor at the World Championships in Italy, giving our US Women's National Team their first ever Gold Medal.  My father used to say I was inquisitive...
...boy was he ever right,
Since then I have been floored by the response to my requests.  Tori Dixon, Deja McClendon, and Cassidy Lichtman came through last week, and they were thorough and thoughtful in their replies.  I found it to be compelling,(I hope you did too!) so I sent out more questions.  
The sport of volleyball is filled with so many GREAT people, and I shouldn't be surprised by much anymore, but when your inbox has a reply from Karch Kiraly, well it's kind of a big deal.  

Here are Karch's credentials...

  • All American (1979, 1980, 1981, 1982)
  • NCAA Volleyball Tournament Most Outstanding Player (1981, 1982)
  • UCLA Hall of Fame (inducted 1992)
Fédération Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB: International Federation of Volleyball)
  • FIVB Best Player in the World (1986, 1988)
  • FIVB Best Player of the 20th Century [14]
American Volleyball Professionals (AVP Professional Beach Volleyball)
  • AVP Best Offensive Player (1990, 1993, 1994)
  • AVP Best Defensive Player (2002)
  • AVP Comeback Player of the Year (1997)
  • AVP Most Valuable Player (1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1998)
  • AVP Sportsman of the Year (1995, 1997, 1998)
  • AVP Outstanding Achievement Award (2004)
Volleyball Hall of Fame inducted 2001.
Kiraly has been named as one of 2009's inductees into the College Sports Information Directors of America (COSIDA) Academic All-America Hall of Fame.
Add to this impressive list, World Champion, Gold Medal winning coach of the United States Women's National Team!
Did I have questions for Coach Kiraly?  You bet I did.  I just never imagined he'd answer them, two days later!

Karch Kiraly
Head Coach, USA Women's National Team
Current Location Anaheim, at our training base, American Sports Center
College UCLA
Major Biochemistry

Before I start with my questions, first let me say congratulations on the awesome victory at the World Championships in Italy!  We may have been the only ones here in Vandergrift, PA to be watching, but we celebrated right along with you!  Just fantastic!

Now that everyone has scattered across the globe to their club destinations and the dust has settled on that stirring victory, what does the typical day consist of for you?  A typical day involves lots of phone calls, emails, texts, WhatsApps, video study, Skyping with our athletes, etc; all with an eye on answering the most important question: how do we get better?

The National team is blessed with incredible depth.  How much of a factor do you think that played in how strong your team was in the Semi's and Finals?  Was there a plan in place regarding playing time and how you managed the team?  You’re right, we are very fortunate to have such a deep team, and that depth was critical to our success in Italy.  Every athlete played important roles for USA, which made us into a fresher team in the semis and finals.  Also, we got huge contributions from more than just the 6 on the court at any given instant; more than just the 12 we were allowed to suit up; and more than just the 14 who earned the right to travel.  We had more than 50 people wear a USA uniform this year, and they ALL made a real difference in our group effort, along with our fantastic staff who dedicate so much time and energy to this effort. 

We love how the coverage of the World Championships allowed us "In the huddle" in an all access way!  You have a very calming effect during timeouts and in huddles pre-game.  Is that a product of trusting the athletes and the system and is it something you can attribute to someone you had as a coach along the way?  Yes, and yes.  We work very hard on developing systems that allow the players to drive this bus, since they are the ones who must make the most important decisions – the real-time decisions as the ball is in the air.  They need to have a calm and clear head in order to do that.  Also, as an athlete, I resonated to the calm and patient and TRUSTING approach that coaches like Marv Dunphy, Doug Beal, and Al Scates used with us.   

Here in Pittsburgh hockey participation tripled after the arrival of Mario Lemieux and increased again with Sidney Crosby and the last Stanley Cup win. Volleyball is a momentum based game. How do we, way out here on the fringes of USA Volleyball keep the momentum you and your team have gained?  What will the short term and long term effects of the Gold Medal be?  To answer the second question first, I have no idea for others, but for me, that result makes me hungry for more, for us to continue along the path of improvement and growth – we can still get so much better.  How do you all keep the momentum?  One great way is by continuing to do what you’ve already done with some of our players: ask them questions, post the answers, continue to grow – individual by individual – our vb community, through Twitter, Facebook, and everything else you have at your disposal.  There’s power in numbers.

Now about that match!  The US wins games one and two. China rallies back from down and takes game three, then has your troops on the ropes in game four...
We know the end of the story, but was there just a little bit of concern, knowing the Chinese had erased a big deficit the day before to win and did that ramp up the desperation level to finish the match in the fourth game?  One of the beauties of our effort in Italy was that we were never desperate at any point in the tournament – we were just doing what we do every day, no play was any more important than any other, none of us needed to do something better than she’d ever done it before.  Our good turns out to be good enough, if we can do it more consistently than anyone across the net.  Also, in the late stages, those are the six teams that are playing the best volleyball on the planet – of course they’re going to make great plays, sometimes in bunches like China did; of course they’re going to come at us hard and try to knock us down, knock us out.  We should never be surprised by that.  We should instead be thanking them – the best teams want their opponents at their best. 

Bonus Question:
What other sport do you enjoy playing and is there a sport you wish you had tried when you were younger?  Growing up, I played a lot of soccer, and it made me a better volleyball player – for example, it helped me to understand how to lead the ball to a teammate (like a setter) on the move.  Now, I’m way too old to take up anything new – I still love playing volleyball.  That’s my sport, and I’m sticking to it. 

Karch Kiraly has always been way up on my list of favorite athletes, but seeing how he managed our National Team at World's elevated him to the top of my favorite coach list, and the time he took to answer my questions, my questions, propels him up my favorite people list!  Thank you Coach Kiraly for always having the growth of our game first and foremost.  We can't wait to see how far this group will go.

If you are interested in GREAT tips on coaching, and especially volleyball, check out Karch Kiraly's blog at Karch Kiraly's Volleyblog

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Jamming in Five Questions, Cassidy Lichtman

     One thing I have found in my many years observing volleyball is the well rounded nature of the athletes who compete. It starts with our own high school athletes who year in and year out perform in the classroom as well as on the court. It should surprise no one that this trend continues all the way to the top levels of the game, from the collegiate level and beyond to our National Team.  Many of the members of Team USA have their own blogs, documenting the things they experience on the road and in the gym.  I love reading these accounts of the day to day lives of these elite athletes.
     Today, I am lucky enough to get to fire five questions at one of Team USA's sharpest minds, 
Cassidy Lichtman.  Cass has been a contributor on this blog(The Other Side of the Canyon) and has her own very interesting blog(Musings of a Vagabond) in which she shares her views on any number of interesting subjects.  When you have some time, check it out!

Cassidy Lichtman
Current Location Cannes, France
Team Name  Le Cannet
Position  Outside Hitter
College Stanford
Major  Bachelor's in Political Science, Master's in History

 Professional Volleyball abroad includes a lot of unique challenges, beside the language, what is the hardest thing you have to adapt to?
 I think the hardest thing is getting used to the isolation. You're thousands of miles away from all of your friends and family for over half of the year. You miss holidays, weddings, babies being born... That can be a tough thing to deal with and it's compounded by the fact that a lot of the people around you don't speak your language so it can be harder to form meaningful relationships wherever you are. The way I deal with this is to try to have activities or hobbies or TV shows or anything that I'm excited about to fill the free time. And Skype and FaceTime of course!

 You grew up in Southern California.  What advantages do you think that gave you as a player, and are there any disadvantages?

 Well, Southern California has long been the hotbed of volleyball in America and I think just the fact that so many people know and love the sport is a plus. Growing up, there were so many great players in our region and playing against that competition every tournament is a huge advantage when it comes to playing at the next level. I think the only disadvantage is that there are so many players and so many clubs that it's become a huge business which I think brings a lot of drama and a lack of loyalty that isn't appealing to me. I was lucky though and got to play for a club I loved, San Diego Volleyball Club, for all eight years of my prep career.

 You have been blessed to have visited many places.  If you had to settle down in a country other than America, where would you go?  Is there somewhere you haven't gone that you would like to visit?

Hmm, I don't know. I guess somewhere in Western Europe. I might say somewhere in the UK for language purposes and because the culture might be the most similar. I'm really liking what I've seen of France so far, though. But that's only if I had to, I love America!
 I haven't been to Australia, I think that would be pretty cool.

 I'm a huge fan of "Musings of a Vagabond".  Does writing appeal to you as an outlet or do you see yourself doing it as a profession one day?

 I like writing as an outlet because I want to have something that I think is worth saying and that I genuinely believe in. I really enjoy writing that kind of thing. If I could find a job that let me do that somehow, maybe I could be into that.

 What was the last movie you saw in a theater?
 Two thumbs up or panned?
 What kind of movie is your favorite?

 Pretty sure it was Guardians of the Galaxy and it was fantastic. I really love what Marvel is doing right now with their whole universe. I'm a nerd so I like superheroes and space and I'm excited about the new Star Wars and everything.
 I also love Disney and Pixar and just think they put out such amazing products time after time.
 Otherwise, it depends on my mood but I like movies with good characters, good stories and/or the ones that make you think about the world...not just blowing things up.

 Bonus Question- You do a ton of clinics.  Is coaching in your future?
 What have you learned from each coach along your path?

 I honestly don't know what's going to happen when I'm done playing. I've done the clinics and I coached some club teams when I was in college and I enjoyed that but there's also a part of me that wants to venture off the volleyball court. I'm sure I'll stay connected to the game regardless though.

 My high school coach, Eric Sato, gave me a huge appreciation for defense and how that can drive the competitive fire of your team.

 My club coach for three years, Kara Hanes, helped me to develop as a leader and never let me get away with anything. She pushed me to be the best athlete I could and most prepared me for college because she'd been there.

My Stanford coach, John Dunning, completely changed the way I saw the game. He taught me how to analyze it, how to make decisions and how to ask the right questions.

 And as for Karch...I feel like he's taken me down into the foundation of the game and shown me the pillars that hold it up. And everything else is supported by or derived from those key principles.
 He's emphasized the importance of the mental side of the game more than any coach I've ever known and brought in an amazing sports psychologist in Michael Gervais. That's informed how I see the game and how our team plays it.
 I also think that we're in the process of pushing the evolution of the sport through the system that he's developed for us. And it's a really organic process where we're constantly tweaking things and experimenting until we find what we believe is the best way to do things and then we commit to it.  That is such a cool thing to get to see and be a part of and I'm just so grateful that he's allowed me to do that.

Many thanks to Cassidy for taking the time to answer my questions in such detail.  
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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Jamming in Five Questions, Deja McClendon

Deja McClendon
That smile.
Seemingly ever present.
Encouraging and joyful.
Some people can convince you of their goodness with just one smile.
That's Deja.
Ellen and I have had a few opportunities to be among the thousands of fans in Rec Hall, and didn't miss too many chances to watch her play on TV, and every time...
That smile!
Ellen and I are big fans of Deja McClendon the player, and bigger fans of Deja.
That's what makes it so special to catch up with her here, on the second installment of "Jamming in Five Questions"

Deja McClendon
Current Location Sopot, Poland
Team Name  Atom Trefl
College Penn State
Major Broadcast Journalism

New team in a new country this year?  What has that adjustment been like, and what do you like the most about your new city?
It's my first full season so preparing to be away for 8 months instead of 3 was a big change. Volleyball is also a much more popular sport in Poland than in Azerbaijan so I had to adjust to playing in big time arenas. I'm really liking it so far. The language is extremely difficult to pick up but I've still been able to explore the center of Old City in           Gdansk. The buildings are beautiful and it's a great place to grab coffee and people watch.

What is your favorite thing to do with free time away from the game?
One of my favorite things to do is try new food. I love to scope out places to eat with teammates. I was just introduced to a classic Polish                                                             dish, Zurek soup. It's a new favorite!

Pro's traveling abroad are addicted to Netflix!  Is there a series or show you enjoy watching?  Any other reviews?
Yes, I most certainly have a problem when it comes to watching shows hah. I am a huge Grey's Anatomy fan but most recently I have started watching New Girl. It's a great show for when you need a laugh.

What advise do you have for High School Juniors who might want to pursue opportunities to play in college?
I think it's important to do your research and to ask a lot of questions. Look at schools that fit you both academically and volleyball-wise. As a student-athlete you can't have one without the other :).

You played with three awesome setters in college in Alisha Glass, Kristin Carpenter, and Micha Hancock.  Create a "supersetter" with one attribute from each of them!
Unfortunately I never got the opportunity to play with Alisha but I did watch her as a recruit. If I could mix together Micha's lefty-awesomeness with Alisha's killer blocking and Kristin's never-ending energy you'd have one crazy supersetter.

Bonus Question:
Everyone has favorite music.
What song, when it comes on the old Ipod, do you say, ahhh yea, and is there one you have been skipping lately?
Drake's 0 to 100 has been number one on my pump up playlist for a few weeks now and as much as I loved the song when it came out, Rude by Magic! is a definite skip for me.
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Jamming in Five Questions, Tori Dixon

Yesterday I wondered if I could get anyone of the large group of important volleyball followers I have on twitter to submit to a five question interview.  I'm so curious about how others view the game and life in general.  I was surprised to have three responses in fifteen minutes!
This portion of the blog will be known as "Jamming in Five Questions" and the first subject will be American Middle Blocker Tori Dixon.

Tori Dixon
Current location: Baku, Azerbaijan
Team: Rabita Baku Volleyball Club
Position: Middle Blocker
College: University of Minnesota- Twin Cities
Major: Sport Management: communications focus, leadership minor

The schedule for the World Championships was brutal. Was there a plan in place to take advantage of Team USA's depth over the long haul?  What positive effect do you think that it had on the team concept and do you think it paid dividends in the Semi's and Final's?

There was never really a definitive plan, but Karch was very adamant and up front with the team about the schedule, and told us numerous times that it was a very long tournament with lots of games. With that, he told us that we were going to need all fourteen players on the roster to make significant contributions during World Championships. Everyone had a very large role on the team, and we couldn't have done it without any one of the fourteen girls. It definitely paid off, because we were able to play at a high level the entire tournament. We were good for a long period of time, and we were able to be at our strongest at the end of the tournament.

Is it extra hard adjusting to a new team this year after spending all summer and especially the past three weeks with the National team?

Yes. It is always going to be hard adjusting to new systems. Especially in international volleyball where you have to take into account things that aren't an issue when training in the US: different languages, cultures, being in an unfamiliar area, new food, lifestyle, etc.

You have been fortunate to work with some of the giants in volleyball as coaches in Mike Hebert(he was Ellen's JO coach and Coach at Pitt) Hugh McCutcheon, and now Karch Kiraly.  What is your favorite trait in each of them?

Mike: He is a character! Just an all around great guy. He was very big into team philosophies and I learned a lot about myself, teams, and other people while being coached by him for a year. 

Hugh: He is a great technical coach. He breaks down fundamental volleyball movement patterns and teaches them so well. He simplifies a lot of things, and I thank him for basically re-teaching me how to play volleyball.

Karch: My favorite thing about Karch is how passionate about USA volleyball and our team he is. My favorite thing about his coaching style is how I never feel stressed or anxious because he has such confidence in our team, our system, his players, and being good, nothing extra. He treats every match the same, whether it's a red/blue scrimmage in Anaheim, or if it's the gold medal match at world championships.

If you weren't playing volleyball professionally, what would you want to do for a living?

I majored in sport management in college because I was interested in collegiate athletics. My internship was with UMN Student-Athlete Affairs (SAA) and I loved it. SAA connected student-athletes and the community by volunteering, career workshops, professional development, etc. I loved the service side of it, but I also wrote articles on the events that were published on Gopher Sports' website, which I enjoyed doing. I don't know if there's a job out there where I could combine sports, service, and communication, but if there is, I would love to be doing that. We will see!

If ______________ (movie) is on, you have to watch it until the end, even if you've seen it a hundred  times?

How to train your dragon! 

Bonus Question:
The serve sends China scrambling.
You know you are going to get an easy ball to handle.
Jordan sends a ball right on top of Alisha's forehead, Lish dishes a beautifully paced ball out to Kim...
What was it like watching it happen, and what did it feel like?  Take us through it...

It was an awesome feeling, especially since we work so hard on taking advantage of easy points that other teams give us: free balls, downfalls, tips/roll shots, etc. When I saw China get so far out of system, I knew we just needed to execute like we do every day in practice, and we did. It was an amazing feeling to make history, but I think it was only a taste of what is to come. This was just a glimpse of where this team is capable of going.


A huge thank you to Tori Dixon for being the first subject of Jamming in Five Questions!  Hopefully there will be many more to come...
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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Resistance Training. It works for your soul too.

    About a month ago I joined our local Anytime Fitness in hopes of regaining some past glory or at least shedding some of the weight that has accumulated on me the past few years.  It is time.  I have to admit that self pity does terrible things to ones athleticism and overall fitness.  So for the past month, every morning at 5:00 am my alarm goes off, and I drag myself to the gym.  I haven't noticed a lot of change, but things are fitting a little better, and more importantly, I FEEL better.
    The trick behind getting stronger is in fooling your body(and mind) into increasing weight and repetitions, finding some false barrier and breaking through it.  The same is true on the treadmill or trail.  Run just a little faster a little longer, and you will see increases in cardio-vascular health.  I have to say these things are happening for me now, and it is getting easier to get up every morning and continuing this ritual.
     I was thinking about this yesterday and this morning in the afterglow of another successful Jam the Gym event.  That might seem a little strange to you at first, but let me explain.  I think we have an opportunity to do similar things, as in training our soul rather than our bodies, in difficult times.  We established The Fluorescent Angels literally weeks after Jaime relapsed and Ellen was in the hardest part of her treatments.
We chose to do something good in the face for something bad.  To me this is like resistance training our souls.  Soon after that, emboldened by what we had done at the Relay 4 life with the Angels, we launched the idea for Jam the Gym.  We were stronger because we encountered this difficulty and found a way through it.  
    I thought that Jaime's passing would be one of the most difficult things I'd ever been through, and so again, in the worst of times, we found a way to put together another Jam the Gym shortly after.  Again, I believe WE GOT STRONGER.  Standing in front of a crowd and addressing the death of someone so dear to me, all the while working to do the things she would have loved to see us do...
I GOT STRONGER, and all around me others where doing it too.  Like bench pressing a Volkswagen.
     The day Jenna passed away was honestly the closest I have ever come to completely losing it.  For about a half an hour, I was completely mad.  Broken.  My heart ached in ways I never thought possible.  Somehow I shifted focus on those who needed me, broke out of it, and got to work on helping everyone else.  Thank God for my training.
     Ellen's relapse was a difficult day, to say the very least, but I am sure I handled it better because of the resistance training that came before it.  With Ellen gaining strength by the day, I can see a light at the end of the tunnel.  She didn't fold up and quit, she has been training too.  Doing difficult things, under the worst of conditions makes us stronger.  Behind the scenes at Jam the Gym you'll find some really well conditioned souls. 
     Thank you all for every bit of support you have given.  It's like having a really strong spotter when you are lifting max.
Blessings to all,
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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Gracie McDermott. Jam the Gym means this...

     With most all of last years seniors already headed out of town, and into their bright future, I enlisted the last one here, Gracie McDermott, to "tap out a few paragraphs" about what Jam the Gym means.
She blew me away with this response.  Thank you Gracie, best of luck at West Chester!

     With only a little bit of time left before I start my years as a college student, I've spent the past couple of days stuffing my life into suitcases. One of those (to my mother's discontent) is filled to the brim with T-shirts. These tightly folded layers of colorful cotton don't seem like a big deal, but they define my high school career. A peek into the suitcase would reveal a navy shirt with white angel wings, a white one that shows a woman in a teal shirt, and a few that advertise three words: Jam
the Gym. Since I'll be going to a school so far removed from the big KA, I can already assume that new friends will be asking what my shirts mean. "What's a Jam the Gym?" "Who's Jaime?" "What does this all mean?" As a proud KAVB alum, I'll say just what those three words mean to me. And it'll sound a little something like this:

      Jam the Gym means purple and orange ribbons tied into my best friends' ponytails. It means teams from all over the area joining mine on the court for the National Anthem. It means support; it means community. Jam the Gym means being recognized for our struggle, and more importantly, our relentless fight. It means remembering Jaime, our inspiration. It means remembering Jenna, our faith. Jam the Gym means bleachers full of peers letting us know we aren't alone. Jam the Gym means Ellen Toy, the survivor. It means cancer doesn't stand a chance against our coach. It means being brave. Jam the Gym means heartfelt opening remarks by Tim Toy. It means gazing into the stands and nervously squeezing the hands of my teammates. It means swallowing our tears, taking a deep breath, and waiting for that first whistle. Jam the Gym, no matter the outcome of the game, means that we're stronger together than we could ever be apart. And that's absolutely beautiful. 

Gracie McDermott was the 2014 winner of the Jaime Vick Moran Scholarship
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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Incredible Imagery you can't see.


They hold power, memories, and pieces of an incredible story.
And you probably can't see them.

I can't not see them.

Seven years ago, in the LGI room we held a meeting.  Ellen was the new volleyball coach at Kiski then, and we were meeting the team.  That night Mr. Berberich uttered the words that would become our first mantra.
"It's about to get serious"...
That was an understatement.
The very next week, at our first open gym the doors flung open and in stepped Jaime Vick.  She wanted to help...
We could never have imagined how much...
There is a place on the floor, which is usually covered by the bleachers on game night.  It's where Jaime was showing an exercise, and where she first suspected something was wrong, and the place up in the very corner of the gym, right of the press box where she was projected, larger than life on the wall, from her hospital room at Jam the Gym 4 Jaime.
A bus pulled out from here, in the athletic circle.  Before that bus reached its destination, 15 miles away at Franklin Regional, news would reach through a cell phone and change our lives.  Ellen Toy had Gastric Cancer.
In this lobby, we gathered to sign volleyballs.  First for our beloved Asst. Coach Jaime, and then for our lovely friend Jenna.  A coach and an athlete gone way too soon.  
Not long after, we met in the cafeteria, under the guise of a birthday celebration for Ellen.  It was February 25th, 2013.
The real purpose was to tell the team that Ellen's Cancer had returned, and that Dan Clair and Maggie Jones would coach the following season.  The team had become leery of these types of meetings.  Who could blame them?

This year, Jam the Gym turns 5.  We wish to make an image that lasts that night, as Dan hands the clipboard back to Ellen, and Ellen returns to our sideline.  Please consider joining us that night.  Help us wipe away some of these images, and replace them with one of victory.  
Jam the Gym is September 3rd, starting at 5:30 with Ellen's return to coach against Plum, followed by a great college match featuring Point Park and Carlow.  It promises to be an evening to remember!

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