COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Dec. 20, 2019) – Zach Upp (Bartlett, Illinois) made huge strides on the sitting volleyball court in 2019, leading the U.S. Men’s National Sitting Volleyball Team to the silver medal at the 2019 Parapan American Games. At age 19, he is already one of the best sitting volleyball players in the world.
For his efforts this season, Upp has been named the 2019 USA Volleyball Male Sitting Player of the Year. Dan Regan (St. Louis, Missouri) has been tabbed as the 2019 USA Volleyball Male Sitting Most Improved Player of the Year.
“It feels amazing to be recognized for how much work I have put in these past few years,” Upp said. “Our team has many other great players so it means a lot to be chosen. I am also extremely grateful to both my coaches and teammates who helped push me to improve these past few years.”
Upp scored a team-leading 163 points in 2019 while starting 18 of 19 matches and playing in 54 of the team’s 65 sets. He averaged a team-best 3.04 points per set, including averages of 1.85 kills, 0.54 blocks and 0.65 aces. Upp added 1.17 digs per set on defense. He was named Best Server at the 2019 Parapan Am Games.
Being only 19 and the youngest player on the roster, Upp has provided a lift for Team USA that Greg Walker, head coach for the U.S. Men’s National Sitting Volleyball Team, has enjoyed watching.
“For Zach, it was a great year for him as he stepped up big for us in competition and was a crucial player for us,” Walker said. “I really have enjoyed his progress over the last season as we take our steps towards qualification. He is someone that the rest of the world has their eyes on as being a top performing athlete for the USA.”
Upp, who was born without his right arm, said his background in other sports and competitiveness has contributed to his quick rise in sitting volleyball. Prior to joining the U.S. Men’s Sitting Volleyball Team, he played standing volleyball for his high school along with basketball, baseball and golf. Upp even plays the violin.
“I have always been a competitive person in my journey of sports,” Upp said. “I have played sports competitively since a very young age through baseball, soccer, and others. I also think my teammates have really helped me through being more confident in my own play and against others who are much older than me.”
Upp has learned how to better use his prosthetic arm to become a better blocker while remaining a major offensive threat at the net.
“Zach is a huge threat at the net on offense and has improved significantly this last season as a blocker, especially with having a better feel for his prosthetic arm and having more control with it,” Walker said. “He is developing into one of the better servers in the world and improving daily on his consistency off the line. If he continues to work hard, I cannot even imagine what success he will have in 2020 as we continue on our road to qualification for Tokyo 2020.”
Upp and his teammates’ attention now turn to a pivotal tournament in March 2020 on home soil for a chance to compete in the 2020 Paralympic Games. Team USA was selected to host the Tokyo 2020 Men’s Final Paralympic Qualification Tournament March 16-21 in Edmond, Oklahoma.
“Our team is really focusing on the consistency of our touches,” Upp said. “We want to have an intent for every touch that we make. We are also working very hard on making sure that every point, no matter the score, is important. Our team has trouble finishing our matches and getting from 17-18 points to the finish.”
For his personal path to improvement, Upp is working to build strength with the available resources that are available to him that were not during his high school sports career.
“I am personally working on strengthening my right arm,” Upp said. “Throughout high school, I wasn’t very focused on getting it stronger because it was difficult to get workouts that would be effective. Now I have trainers who can help and I am working hard at that.”
Regan knows a thing or two about sitting volleyball with over a decade on the national team, but he continues to work tirelessly to improve his game, whether in matches or in training. In 2019, he played in 15 sets and averaged 2.07 points per set with 26 kills, three aces and two blocks. Regan’s .269 hitting efficiency ranked second on the team in 2019 and he converted a team-high 50.0 percent of his attacks into points.
“First of all, I have to admit that it was an absolute shock to have received this honor because I have witnessed some amazing improvement from many of the athletes on our team, especially some of our newer athletes,” Regan said. “Significant improvement is typically more identifiable in those athletes in their first few years with the team as they adjust to our systems, etc.
“Having said that, receiving an honor like this is reassuring. It is reassuring to see that my individual efforts are being recognized by others and it will serve as a source of encouragement for my future efforts.”
Walker feels Regan’s improvement is a “culmination of hard work and dedication” to the U.S. Men’s Sitting Team program philosophy and vision.
“Our staff is incredibly proud of Dan and it was a unanimous decision for him to receive Most Improved Player of the Year for 2019,” Walker said. “This is a longer story than just 2019 for Dan – he has been grinding and working hard to make some significant changes physically and mentally in his training the last few years.”
Regan lost his right leg above the knee due to a boating accident and was first exposed to sitting volleyball in 2006 as part of his physical therapy following the accident. He emerged as one of the top players on the U.S. Men’s Sitting Team, earning USA Volleyball Male Sitting Player of the Year in 2011. Now he has challenged himself to continue improving even at age 47.
“Dan has seized the opportunity to be an impact player on and off the court, and with that, I am proud of the improvements that we have seen as being someone that we can put in the game and trust to get the job done.”
As one of the leaders on the team, Regan feels the team’s “escalating cohesion and increasing ability to exploit each of our athletes’ and coaches’ strengths” will be pivotal come March when the U.S. Men’s Sitting Team plays for a spot into the Paralympic Games later in the summer.
“We will face some very good teams, but I believe that matching our strengths against that of our competition, we will be able to achieve our goal of qualifying,” Regan said. “It will take a full team commitment to the preparation and execution of our game plan and it will take the belief in ourselves and teammates to make it happen. I believe those pieces are in place.”
Regan believes the difference in qualifying and not qualifying for the Paralympics will come down each player doing the little things off the court to be ready.
“We all know this is a team sport, but success will only happen with each athlete’s ability to put their best on the court at all times,” Regan said. “I have played this game for a long time now and as every year passes, I find myself putting more time into video analysis of upcoming competition. In the coming months I intend to put a lot of time into competitor tendencies and into identifying and practicing counter measures. With regards to specific individual skills, I am working on improving my block recognition and being more aggressive from the service line.”