FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (July 22, 2016) – Can you remember the moment you fell in love with volleyball? How about the first time you dreamed of playing in the Olympics and hearing the National Anthem after winning a gold medal?

For a select few, the chance to make that dream a reality comes about every four years as members of the U.S. Olympic Volleyball Teams.

For thousands of other, younger volleyball players across the United States, the dream to play in the Olympics serves as the fuel to train harder, jump higher and play smarter in hopes of one day reaching the pinnacle of the sport.

This week at the 2016 High Performance Championships four U.S. Olympians are coaching High Performance teams, helping to teach and inspire the next generation of college and professional volleyball players.

“This is the highlight of my summer. I love coming back and working with the younger kids to see where they’re at and to see how much they improve in such a short amount of time,” Five-time Olympian and two-time silver medalist Danielle Scott-Arruda said. “We teach them the USA style of volleyball, what the culture is, the words we use and to see that come to fruition in such a short time is a real pleasure.”

Joining Scott-Arruda at HPCs are Stacy Sykora, an assistant coach for the Youth National Team and three-time Olympian and silver medalist (2000, 2004, 2008); Jeff Nygaard, also a three-time Olympian (1996 and 2000 U.S. Men’s Olympic Team, 2004 U.S. Beach Team with Dain Blanton) and head coach for the USA Youth Continental Red team; and Tom Sorensen (1996 U.S. Men’s Olympic Team), who is assisting Nygaard.

Nygaard and Scott-Arruda (1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012) took time out of their schedules to share their thoughts on coaching in the USA High Performance pipeline, as well as what it takes to make it to the Olympic level.

Name: Danielle Scott-Arruda
Number of years coaching HP: Three years; previously worked with Youth Select teams

What do you enjoy about coaching at HPCs?
“I think these girls probably will have gone through many coaches and will go through more, but this is a nice tool, especially for those dreaming or aspiring to go to the Olympics, it’s nice for them to play in a national team event and get the exposure and experience of what it should be like. We’re here to provide that and give them a small glimpse of what it’s like to be in the USA gym.”

Hard work is essential to reaching the top of the collegiate or international game. What else does it take to make it to the Olympics?
“First, it starts with a dream and then you have to work toward that. Put a plan in place and start now. Don’t just go out and play volleyball. Focus on growth in terms of mental strength, in terms of working as a team… those are key things outside of just working hard. Being a good teammate, doing the extra steps, thinking about the details… but a lot of it is just working hard and having the determination that it can be you. Why not you?”

Do you have a particular Olympic memory or moment that stands out?
“Every Olympics to me is special. Every journey to making that Olympics is special and unique. Something that stands out in general is the first time I got my jersey and each time after that was a special moment. Even down to 2013, when I had my last appearance on the national team, when Karch (Kiraly, U.S. Women’s Team Head Coach) gave me my folder with all our responsibilities I was like, “Ahhh! Can we take a picture to remember this moment?!” Every time I was able to represent USA was a special moment.”

Name: Jeff Nygaard
Number of years coaching HP: First year; Jeff had previous experience working with the Iowa Region Women’s HP program, but this is his first USA HP team

What are you enjoying about coaching at HPCs?
“The pendulum of grass roots has swung quite a bit from when I played. When you look at the physicality, talent, height and athleticism right now… the pipeline of USA Volleyball seems to be growing and gaining momentum and getting stronger and at the top our national teams has been having a lot of success. In and of itself this has been fabulous and a lot of fun and educations, but it’s also encouraging for the future of USA Volleyball.”

Hard work is essential to reaching the top of the collegiate or international game. What else does it take to make it to the Olympics?
“Tom Sorensen is the assistant for me, and we were just talking about our experiences of being an Olympian… he said something that resonated with me: When he was 14 years old, there was some situation where somebody asked him, ‘What do you want to do?’ and he said, ‘I want to be an Olympic volleyball player.’ I looked at him and said, ‘Really? Because I was 13 when I wrote down on a player profile that I wanted to be on the U.S. National Team.’ There’s power in making a promise to yourself and your energies align toward that. If you want to reach the next level, be the guy who can fill your potential, whether it means you’re capped at this level or the next or the Olympics.”

Do you have a particular Olympic memory or moment that stands out?
“In 1996, we were down 14-12 against Cuba in Game 4, trailing 2-1, and I go back to serve. All of a sudden the Omni decides to start chanting, ‘USA! USA!’ I don’t remember how, but we got the point, and we went on a run and came back to win 16-14. Every time I came back to serve it got louder, more people stood up and by the last serve, the whole place was rocking, chanting, ‘USA!’ I usually never see or hear the crowd, but I couldn’t get it out then.”

Who is your favorite college volleyball team?

In the final player poll of the 2016 High Performance Championships, we asked and they answered. The Big 10 took home many of the top 10 spots on the women’s side, while UCLA was the clear favorite on the men’s side. Thirty-eight different colleges and universities received votes for “Favorite Women’s Team,” however, only 14 of those schools received three or more votes. 

See below for full results and check back tomorrow for championship match stories in the final day of HPCs action here in Fort Lauderdale. 

12. USC – 3

 Who is your favorite college volleyball team?  
 Women’s programs Men’s Programs 
 1. Penn State University – 32 votes    1. UCLA – 12
 2. Wisconsin – 15  2. Penn State University – 6  
 3. Texas – 10  3. Lewis University – 5
 4. Minnesota – 9  4. Ohio State University – 5
 5. Nebraska – 9  5. Long Beach State – 4
 6. Stanford – 9   6. Hawaii – Manoa – 3
 7. UCLA – 7   7. Loyola (Chicago) – 3
 8. University of Washington – 6  8. Stanford – 2
 9. Texas A&M – 5  9. IPFW – 2
 10. Iowa – 4  10. BYU – 2 
 11. Pepperdine – 3  11. Grand Canyon University – 2 
 12. USC – 3  12. UC Irvine – 2
 13. Syracuse – 3 
 14. University of Hawaii – Manoa – 3