COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (Feb. 16, 2017) – Five members of the U.S. Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team participated in this past weekend’s USA Volleyball High Performance Coaches Clinic (HPCC), providing their perspective on the journey to winning the program’s first Paralympic Games gold medal. The team’s 2017 schedule, including an invitation to the World ParaVolley World Super 6 tournament, is getting full leading up to the Parapan American Zonal Championships that takes place in Canada in October. And a new podcast focused solely on sitting volleyball launched this week.

Paralympic Gold Medalists on USA Volleyball High Performance Coaches’ Clinic Panel Session

Monique Burkland, Heather Erickson, Kaleo Kanehele Maclay, Nicole Nieves and Alexis Shifflett – all gold medalists at the 2016 Parlaympic Games leading the U.S. Paralympic Sitting Volleyball Team to their first title – were on hand for the HPCC held Feb. 9-11 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. While taking part in various break-out small group sessions during the three days, the five athletes concluded the clinic by sitting on the panel “USA Sitting National Team: From London to Rio” and presented some memorable highlights over the past year to the 210 attendees.

During the 58-minute panel session, all five athletes had the attendees laughing and learning at the same time. A few comments from the session:

  • Heather Erickson on the most surprising thing about playing sitting volleyball: “The most surprising thing is probably the fact that when you go to a disabled team, you are no longer disabled.”
  • Nicole Nieves on the difference from the 2012 Paralympics to the 2016 Paralympics: “Trusting and the buy-in. It is easy for the coach to say we are going to do this and change this. We are going to have a faster offense. It is easy to say. But to actually believe it and buy into it and have a team that wants to work with you and all have the same goal. This go-around it felt like everybody was all-in all the time.”
  • Kaleo Kanahele Maclay on losing to China in Paralympics pool play: “Losing to China is one of the worst feelings. There was an unsettling feeling of this is not how it was going to end… In losing that first match, it reset that fire. There is no way China is going away with the gold medal. That is mine and ours, and we are going to have it.”
  • Heather Erickson on overcoming a self-described bad match against China in the Paralympic pool match: “We were walking back to the village and I still had teary eyes, and one of my teammates came up to me, Lora Webster, and she said ‘What are you doing.’ And I said I’m upset and I played like crap. And she said ‘That is just one game. And it is not up to just you to win the game. It is not up to just you to play your best. All of us were off. We all contributed to that loss.’ After she told me that, it just kind of relieved myself of everything I was feeling, all the stress. It was an amazing feeling to have a teammate to have your back and come to you when you really needed someone.”

In addition, U.S. Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team Head Coach Bill Hamiter led a session on the adjustments the team made from the 2012 Paralympics to the 2016 Paralympics that netted gold.

On Friday night, the sitting team players had the opportunity to engage some of the HPCC attendees directly into the sport. While the five were just having a narrow court training session to themselves, some attendees asked if they could join. What started as 3-on-3 moved to 4-on-4 and eventually 6-on-6 with the able-bodied attendees playing alongside and against the Paralympians.

“(Friday night) we started a pickup game, and then random attendees from the HP Coaches’ Clinic came and started to sit down with us to play,” Erickson said. “For us it is awesome to have new people to come and join our sport and know what our sport is about, to have the experience to play it and see it and have a firsthand experience so they can maybe bring it home and play it more. It helps to get the awareness out. It is awesome to see people enjoy the sport we enjoy to play.”

U.S. Women’s Sitting Team Invited to Super 6

The U.S. Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team has entered into the 2017 World ParaVolley World Super 6 tournament that features six of the top teams in the world. The event will take place May 16-21 in Hangzhou City, China.

Team USA, ranked No. 1 in the world after winning the 2016 Paralympic Games, will have its hands full at the World Super 6. China, which had won the Paralympic Games in 2004, 2008 and 2012 before losing to the Americans in the 2016 title match, will have the home-court advantage and is ranked second in the world. Ukraine (ranked fourth), Russia (ranked seventh) and Japan (ranked 11th) have also registered for the event. The Netherlands, ranked fifth in the world, is expected to round out the six-team field.

“The beginning of a quad is always difficult due to establishing a new team with new players, revamping systems of play and usually new staff members,” Hamiter said. “There is always a question about how the team will play and how good you will be. A tournament such as the Super 6 forces us to develop quickly and test our abilities against some of the best teams in the world. It is important to establish an early bench mark of where the team is at so we know what to develop and work on. This helps us in our preparation for the Zone Championship later this year and the World Championship next year. The Super 6 will have an exciting format where the team can earn prize money. We are looking forward to it.”

The Parapan American Zone Championship will be held in October in Canada with dates yet to be confirmed.

After finishing the 2008 and 2012 Paralympic Games with silver medals and the 2004 Paralympic Games with bronze, Team USA won its first-ever Paralympic gold medal by defeating China 3-0 in the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games title match.

Prior to competition at the World Super 6, the U.S. Women’s Sitting Team will face No. 9 Canada in a five-match exhibition series March 4-6 during the Colorado Crossroads, a USA Volleyball Girls’ Junior National Championships qualifier, at the Colorado Convention Center. The two teams will have matches at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. MT on both March 4 and March 5, while the series will conclude on March 6 with a 9 a.m. MT match.

Upon returning from the World Super 6, the U.S. Women’s Sitting Team will head to Minneapolis for a training block during the USA Volleyball Open National Championships held May 26-31 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The U.S. Men’s Sitting Team will also be in Minneapolis at the same time with the hopes of competition over training and intrasquad scrimmages.

“For the team, we have Zonals coming up,” Erickson said. “We have to place first or second to get into World Championships (in 2018). It is to prepare for that competition and to also to prepare to go to Worlds in 2018 to possibly to qualify for Tokyo (2020 Paralympic Games).”

The U.S. Women were selected the “Best Paralympic Team” at the Team USA Awards ceremony on Sept. 28. The squad finished 2016 with a 21-3 record, and its only official competition loss came to China in the Paralympic Games pool play. Team USA also won gold at both the 2016 World ParaVolley Intercontinental Cup held in China in March and the Dutch Tournament in July.

Sitting Happens Podcast

“Sitting Happens”, a podcast devoted to sitting volleyball around the United States, launched on Feb. 14 and has three podcasts posted with a range of topics. The podcasts are the brain child of Jon Aharoni and Dan Mickle.

The inaugural episode highlights the story of Richelle Heacock, who was paralyzed in a car accident in 2010. She currently serves as the head volleyball coach at Eatonville High School (Washington) and was coached by volleyball legend Bill Neville. To hear her story, click here.

Bill Hamiter, head coach of the U.S. Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team, was the subject of the second podcast He helped Team USA win the 2016 Paralympic Games gold medal for the first time after finishing second to China in 2008 and 2012. Hamiter chats about the experience on winning gold, the future and working with sitting volleyball athletes.

The third podcast is an entertaining session with Paralympic gold-medal winning teammates Monique Burkland, Heather Erickson and Nicole Nieves. During the podcast, they share insight on their past, present and future with the U.S. Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team.

U.S. Women’s Sitting Team Visits USAV Headquarters

Five members of the U.S. Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team visited the USA Volleyball national headquarters in Colorado Springs and had the chance to see their 2016 Paralympic Games gold-medal team photo hanging in the Gold Conference Room. Pictured are setters Alexis Shifflett and Kaleo Kanahele Maclay, head coach Bill Hamiter, team leader Michelle Goodall and assistant coach Lazaro Beltran.

Preliminary U.S. Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team Roster for 2017 World ParaVolley World Super 6
No. – Name (Position, Height, Hometown)
1 – Lora Webster (MB, 5-11, Phoenix, Arizona)
2 – Bethany Zummo (L, 5-2, Dublin, California)
3 – Alexis Shifflett (S, 5-4, Waseca, Minnesota)
4 – Melissa Clement (OH/MB, 5-11, Rogers, Arkansas)
6 – Heather Erickson (OH, 5-11, Fayetteville, North Carolina)
7 – Monique Burkland (OH, 5-9, Ardmore, Oklahoma)
8 – Whitney Dosty (OH, 6-3, Tucson, Arizona)
10 – Kari Miller (L, 5-6, Washington D.C.)
14 – Kaleo Kanahele Maclay (S, 5-6, Edmond, Oklahoma)
16 – Nicky Nieves (MB, 5-10, Kissimmee, Florida)
17 – Tia Edwards (OH, 5-7, Skitatook, Oklahoma)
18 – Courtney Baker (OPP, 5-8, Crofton, Kentucky)

Head Coach: Bill Hamiter
Assistant Coach: Lazaro Beltran, Jon Aharoni
Technical Coordinator: Jeff Hicks
Team Leader: Michelle Goodall
Athletic Trainer: Patrick Lawrence