When Matt Anderson traveled to London last summer and competed in the Olympics with the U.S. men’s volleyball team, his teammates teased him about being the youngest player on the roster.
Less than a year later, the jokes have stopped.
Anderson has rapidly become one of the Americans’ best and most experienced players. Heading into Friday’s FIVB World League match against Argentina at Koch Arena, his teammates wouldn’t dream of ribbing him, even in a friendly way. Instead, they will be looking to him for guidance.
That’s the transformation that occurs after a 26-year-old wins U.S. Male Indoor Player of the Year honors, starts every set of the Olympics and leads the national team in scoring for an entire season.
“It happened overnight with the new roster,” Anderson said. “It will be different for sure. I will have more of a leadership role. I guess you can call me a veteran now. I’m excited for it. It will be a new challenge for the team and for myself. I’m excited for it. I have never been one of the vocal leaders on the court.
“Across my career I have always let my play do the talking for me. Now I have to help the guys more in different ways.”
Many view Anderson as the national team’s top returning player. Most of the veterans who helped the Americans take fifth place in the 2012 Olympics are taking the summer off, but not Anderson.
The 6-foot-9 outside hitter, who had 81 points and 69 kills in London, is eager to start pushing for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
“Playing in the Olympics was an amazing experience,” Anderson said. “There is so much hype behind them because it is the world’s best athletes coming together to compete for their country, but I am still disappointed thinking about how we finished fifth. I don’t want to say we should have easily gotten a medal, but the way we were playing we should have competed for a medal.
“I am still bummed about that, but I came home with more experience and more of a taste of what I want. I am going to work really hard to get it.”
Anderson has always pushed for quick results. Growing up in New York, he focused mostly on soccer until he reached high school and a friend convinced him to try out for the volleyball team. His size and speed made him a natural.
A few years later, he was being recruited by college volleyball powers and starring at Penn State. A few years after that, he was playing professionally in Russia and working his way onto the U.S. national team.
New coach John Speraw is glad he has a passionate voice to turn to on the court.
“Matt is a wonderful example of setting a standard for the guys in terms of work ethic and professionalism,” Speraw said. “He just handles himself so well and he works incredibly hard and is incredibly focused in his training. He wants to be the very best at his position, and I think he is achieving that. It is really beneficial for everyone on the team to see that standard of excellence.”
Still, it might not be easy for the Americans to win matches this summer. Even with Anderson serving as an anchor on the front line, the team is adjusting to a new coach, a modified offense and new players.
That is a lot of change, especially for a team that has never traveled together.
Anderson understands that, but he is hoping to see progress over the next few months.
“I want us to be able to find our personality as a team early. That way we can understand what we need to fix and what we need to do to win,” Anderson said. “It would be nice to show how much gumption we have as a team. I don’t think the first few matches are going to be pretty, but it would be great if we can fight through that adversity and show everyone we are a good team and we deserve to be up there.”