This past weekend was as good as it gets for volleyball fans here in Hawai'i. The Women's Brazilian National Team wore green and gold, reflecting their finishes in the last two Olympics. Team USA was on a mission: to beat the team that has singlehandedly extinguished their dreams of gold in each of the last four Olympic games.
The local matches were billed as "friendlies" but the chasm separating realized and unrealized childhood dreams is full of anguish, and a few pressure packed points are the difference between tears of joy and the very different tears of heartache.
The Brazilians advantages are their experience, confidence, and the leadership of the most highly decorated coach in volleyball history. Ze Roberto has done it all in the sport of volleyball, the only coach ever to lead teams to gold medals in both the men's and women's side of the game. Team USA leader Karch Kiraly is a coaching rookie: His only previous head coaching role was as the varsity coach of St. Margaret's Episcopal High School where he coached his sons Kristian and Kory just five years ago. I was once told that the first requirement of being a great coach is credibility and what Karch lacks in coaching experience must be balanced with his resume. Karch is the greatest athlete to ever play the sport of volleyball.
On Friday, before the first match began, Karch was kind enough to speak at a Spike and Serve sponsored meet and greet with nearly 100 young SAS volleyball athletes and their parents. "The USA team is on a quest for gold." "It starts every day in practice." "The biggest skill we focus on is reading the play so that we know what's going to happen before it does." "In 50 years of Olympic play, the USA women's team has never won a gold medal. We don't shy away from that truth. We know team USA will win a gold medal. It may be two years from now or 20. My job as head coach is to have it happen sooner than later." "We know that the Olympics will take place in Brazil, the country. We also know that our Olympic quest will run through Brazil, the team."
I first met Karch in 1989 when I was in high school and he visited Hawai'i for a free volleyball clinic. He was a two time gold medalist, my idol, and the idol of everyone else in the gym. I still remember how he stood in the middle of the court and challenged each of us to try and ace him. King Karch was larger than life.
During my first years on the AVP beach volleyball tour I was introduced to Karch the competitor. I vividly recall a tournament in Sacramento, California where he won two matches after tearing both his meniscus and mcl. Karch was ferocious. Lastly, I was honored and fortunate to meet Karch the teammate when I partnered with him during his last competitive season on tour. I learned how to practice every day like it was a championship match, so that when it really was the championship match it was just like practice. I learned to be a better teammate, taking responsibility and opening lines of communication. I gained both lessons in volleyball and lessons in life from a man I'm lucky to call now, a friend.
While in Hawai'i, Team USA won back to back matches in thrilling fashion overcoming injury, adversity, and battling Olympic sized demons against their nemesis, Brazil. Team USA played with passion and poise and were an inspiration to our young Spike and Serve athletes in the stands and to me, their young coach.
The lessons Karch has worked hard to unveil to his team are the same that I aim to pass on to the kids in the Spike and Serve ohana every day: Find your own "golden" quest, work hard to get better every day, and be a good teammate on and off the court.
Thank you, Karch for leading the way. Go Team USA! Go Team SAS!
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