Colorado Springs, COLO. (April 27, 2016) – On Wednesday, members of Dick’s Sporting Goods’ USA Contenders program were invited to the company’s corporate headquarters near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to celebrate the 100-day mark until the start of the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. The attending athletes heard speeches from multiple motivational speakers and past Olympians, including boxer and 1976 Olympic gold medalist Sugar Ray Leonard.

U.S. Women’s Sitting Team libero Bethany Zummo (Dublin, California) participated in an athlete Q&A session moderated by Apolo Ohno, the winner of multiple speed-skating medals at the 2002, 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Additionally, a short documentary about Zummo’s childhood and volleyball career aired during the celebration.

“It was pretty exciting to see everyone together and to see Bethany get interviews,” said teammate Lexi Shifflett (Waseca, Minnesota).

Also attending the event were Courtney Baker (Crofton, Kentucky), Monique Burkland (Ardmore, Oklahoma), Heather Erickson (Fayetteville, North Carolina), Nicky Nieves (Kissimmee, Florida) and A2 Development athletes Chris Hoodye (Downey, California) and Alyssa Cleland (Laguna Hills, California).

Updated World Rankings
With a little more than three months before the Opening Ceremony, World ParaVolley has released final world rankings ahead of the Rio de Janeiro Paralympics.

Although they took gold at the Intercontinental Cup in March, the U.S. Women’s Sitting Team is ranked No. 2 worldwide with 5,150 points to China’s 5,400 points. However, the U.S. is seeded third for the Paralympics; host-nation Brazil automatically received the No. 1 seed, despite being ranked No. 4 worldwide.

The U.S. Men’s Sitting Team maintained their overall world ranking of ninth place following the tournament, but fell to eight place in the Rio seeding rankings.

Organizers have not yet announced when the Paralympic tournament schedule – which features two pools of four teams for both men’s and women’s competition – will be released.

The Paralympic sitting volleyball competition begins Thursday, Sept. 8 and runs the duration of the Games; the women’s medal matches are scheduled for Friday, Sept. 16, while the men’s tournament wraps up on Saturday, Sept. 17.

Invictus Games come to U.S.
More than 500 athletes from 15 countries will converge in Orlando, Florida from May 8-12 for the 2016 Invictus Games. U.S. Sitting Volleyball Coordinator Elliot Blake is facilitating the sitting volleyball portion of the Games. The sitting volleyball semifinals and medal matches will be broadcast live on ESPN3 on Tuesday, May 10 from 2:00 to 4:30 p.m. and 7:00 to 9:30 p.m. eastern standard time, respectively.

During the 2014 inaugural Invictus Games, the United States won a silver medal, falling 3-0 to host-nation United Kingdom.

Current U.S. Men’s Sitting Team libero John Kremer (Buford, Georgia) was a member of the 2014 squad, and Blake said multiple U.S. Sitting Volleyball A2 training team athletes are expected to participate this year.

Started by Prince Harry of the United Kingdom, the Invictus Games provide an opportunity for men and women injured in military service to their nation to compete at a competitive level while representing their country.

Sitting teams ready for National Championships
Following a team training camp from April 22-24, the U.S. Women’s Sitting Team is looking forward to the USA Volleyball Open National Championships, when the team will host the Russia Women’s Sitting Team in a series of exhibition matches.

Head Coach Bill Hamiter said the matches present a unique opportunity to fine-tune line-ups and offensive systems while also experimenting with different personnel options ahead of the Paralympics.

“We want to win, but it’s not as do-or-die so we can test out some other players and assess where they’re at as we start looking at who will make the final roster for Rio,” Hamiter added.

The team currently is scheduled to play May 27-29. Additionally, multiple members of both Men’s and Women’s Sitting Teams are playing in the sitting division of the National Championships, which is open to both disabled and able-bodied athletes.

Growing the game 
In recent weeks, members of the U.S. Sitting teams and USA Volleyball have continued ongoing efforts to expand awareness and understanding of the Paralympic movement, including sitting volleyball.

On April 21 and 22, U.S. Men’s Sitting Team captain Eric Duda (Fort Lauderdale, Florida) and John Kremer traveled to James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia to participate in a clinic aimed at introducing students to a variety of Paralympic sports including sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball.

Sponsored by Dr. Cathy McKay, a Kinesiology professor and researcher, Duda and Kremer taught basic skills to students in 30 15-minute sessions over the two days.

“It was so great to have (Eric and John) on campus. Eric is clearly a coach and expert volleyball player and it was great that he and John were able to offer skill-specific feedback,” McKay said.

Duda said there were some, “frustrated faces at first,” but the students, “came away with a new-found respect for the sport.”

The pair also spent time teaching the James Madison women’s varsity volleyball team, challenging the team to a two-on-six scrimmage; Duda and Kremer won.

“I about lost my voice after the second day, but it was worth it,” Duda said.

U.S. Women’s Sitting Team outside hitter Katie Holloway (Lake Stevens, Washington) also introduced sitting volleyball to a new group: a Cubs Scouts troop near her home in California. She focused on teaching the 14 troop members sportsmanship and teamwork before introducing basic skills.

The personal lesson immediately followed a trip to Reno, Nevada for the Far Western Qualifier on April 16-18, where Holloway co-hosted a sitting volleyball exposure event.

“I brought six or seven people I normally practice with and we had a lot of girls come and get down on the floor for the first time,” she said.

Finally, on Thursday, a group of AT&T Associates, Solution Providers and vendors got a, “once in a lifetime” experience when USA Volleyball’s Director for Sport Development, John Kessel, led the group in a sitting clinic at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. The group was given basic skills instructions by Kessel and other USA Volleyball staff before breaking out into teams to try the sport in competitive matches.

“We’re a proud sponsor of Team USA, so it’s fascinating to get a backstage look at how our athletes train, and to have the opportunity to learn some new sports,” said Ben Ho, Executive Sales Director.