Hundreds of volleyball fans crowded onto Pierce College’s Ken Stanley Court to watch the U.S. Women’s National Team scrimmage Thursday night.
Renown players and coaches came to witness the legendary Karch Kiraly lead the team as they prepared for the 2016 Olympics.
It was Kiraly’s first visit to Pierce, but the distinguished athlete was coached by Brahmas Hall of Fame inductee Marv Dunphy when he played for the National Team in 1988.
“This is legendary footing,” Kiraly said. “We love to have a chance to put in our uniforms on and to battle it out. USA versus USA. A great chance to play in front of a crowd and important progress as part of the team.”
One of Kiraly’s assistants, former Pierce volleyball head coach Tom Black, reminisced about his time as a Brahma and expressed his gratitude for his assistant coach, Ken Stanley. Black was a former Pierce College head coach for the men’s volleyball team who in 2002-2003 lead the Brahmas to back to back state championships. Now just over a decade later he is one of Kiraly’s assistants for Team USA, but has always looked back at his time at Pierce and how the coaching he learned with the Brahmas under the tutelage of Stanley has now translated with working on an Olympic squad.
“He was a big mentor in my life,” Black said. “I’m a different person from being here and working with him. Even though I was the head coach I felt like an assistant sometimes because he taught me how I should run practice. He’s the greatest coach in my life.”
For fans of volleyball it was a night to remember. Hundreds of little girls from various club teams came out to support the national team. Bakersfield College women’s head coach Carl Ferrara, whose team battles the Brahmas on a yearly basis, brought his daughter, Elyse, who offered perspective on the night’s scrimmage.
“I thought they had a good run and that they practiced well,” 13-year-old Ferrera said. “I was looking and watching the setters because that is what I play and I thought they did a good job.”
For the current Pierce College women’s volleyball team it was an experience that they soaked in and using what they can from Team USA after last year’s disappointing season of getting ousted in the first round and seeing their championship reign come to an end. Brahmas sophomore opposite Mika Fabbro said she valued watching the pros play on her team’s home court.
“I think what was really helpful for us to watch was what they did after they made a mistake, and how they handled it and how they react it to each other,” Fabbro said. “I think it is really easy in a game like volleyball to get in your own head after you make a mistake. It’s not like we get do that very often because we have our own system to handle that, but sometimes its really hard when you make three mistakes in a row. Because then you start to feel really down on yourself and we needed to especially watch that and watch how the best team arguably in the world makes mistakes.”
Kiraly said he’s looking to bring the his team its first Olympic gold medal when, if they qualify, they play the world’s top team on their home turf in Rio de Janeiro.
“It’s going to be a very very difficult road to qualify for the Olympics and therefore we don’t assume that we are going to be at the Olympics,” Kiraly said. “Our number one job is to qualify. But if we are able to qualify and we are hopeful about that then it will be an unbelievable Olympics, maybe even the best volleyball Olympics ever. Brazil is crazy is a country both indoors and the beach. They have great indoor programs, they have great sand programs. They will contend in all the disciplines on both the women’s side and men’s side. It’s going to be great. And in our version of it, assuming we qualify somebody who wants to win that gold medal will have to go through a great Brazil program that happens to be the two time defending Olympic champions. So I couldn’t imagine a better place to try and do something that this program has never done before. And that is to win a gold medal.”