Veteran spurs U.S. men to volleyball bronze

By Janie McCauley
Associated Press
From  left, Matthew Anderson, David Lee and Reid Priddy put up a wall against Russia's Sergey Tetyukhin. Priddy ended his indoor volleyball career with a bronze medal.

Rio de Janeiro — Reid Priddy could take his Brazilian bow.

One of the biggest ambassadors in men’s volleyball for more than a decade, the 38-year-old American ended his fourth and final indoor Olympics in spectacular fashion Sunday, leading a five-set comeback that carried the U.S. to the bronze medal with a victory over defending champion Russia.

Yet, Priddy will be remembered for far more than a medal. That he even suited up was an achievement. And it wasn’t lost on those who played alongside him, watching as he recovered from a career-threatening knee injury — especially important to the younger players, who relished the chance to learn from him.

“I won before this game started,” Priddy said.

He leapt high for kill after kill, blocked his heart out, went to the floor all day to keep points alive. Priddy played the most he has in these Olympics on the final day at Maracanazinho arena, pulling his teammates into quick huddles between points, patting them on the back and high-fiving at every chance.

With chants of “U-S-A!,” the Americans rallied from two sets down to deny the 2012 London champs, 23-25, 21-25, 25-19, 25-19, 15-13. (Brazil won gold in a straight-set victory over Italy.)

“It was hard especially at the end there to just focus, a lot of emotions,” Priddy said. “It was special. Even before this game, I came to terms with the fact the relationships, the experiences, were worth it the last two years. All the growth, all the hardship.”

Priddy bent his knees and pumped his arms when Matt Anderson pounded one ball home. And when Anderson ended it on another kill, Priddy found himself in the middle of a huge hug.

Now, change may be coming for a man who has left such a legacy for the program. He will try to make it in beach volleyball. And, if his body cooperates, he will try to compete in Tokyo for one more Olympics.

“Reid Priddy was on fire,” captain David Lee said. “I dedicate this match to him. He’s one of the reasons we got this medal. He should be incredibly proud of the way he finished his career indoors.”

Two months ago, Priddy became the improbable pick for coach John Speraw’s 12-man roster. And Sunday marked a moment to celebrate for the outside hitter following the injury to his right knee two years ago in Bulgaria. He landed awkwardly after a high-flying hit, then lay face to the floor grimacing, his taped hand gripping his right knee. Doctors used a tendon from his left knee to repair the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right.

Priddy’s shoes for the bronze match read “Far” on one and “Greater” on the other. As he waited for knee surgery, his career in jeopardy, he went to church one day.

“I don’t do this a lot, but I had a burst of faith,” he said. “It was one of those times, of maybe two times in my life, where an inaudible-audible voice said what I’m going to do is far greater.”

Earlier this year, the father of two traveled to Italy to play professionally and find his rhythm leading to Rio. His wife and kids were there to greet him Sunday.

Priddy was just the second four-time Olympian for U.S. men’s volleyball, and three-timer Lee has already said he is done with the national team after Rio. Together they captured gold in the 2008 Beijing Games. Now, Priddy and Lee are ready to go, knowing the program is in the hands of talented youngsters.

Speraw’s players made the most of team meetings to get back on track in Rio, and the first-time Olympic coach is ready to use this learning experience and push on.

At some point, he will take time to thank Priddy again.

“More than anything,” Speraw said, “I’m just so happy for him.”