What outside hitter Reid Priddy remembers most about the U.S. march to volleyball gold at the Beijing Olympics isn’t any one play or any particular match. It’s what was happening when the world wasn’t watching, hanging out during the breaks in competition.
“In 2008, there was a feeling of ‘Hey, we’ve got to go watch this game or that event, all together.’ There were 12 guys that weren’t looking to get fresh air from each other, but were continuing to have a desire to be together. And I found that to be pretty special and unique,” Priddy said. “That sort of camaraderie and brotherhood could be seen on the court.”
The London Games will be the third Olympics for the Mountain Pointe product. Priddy was named an alternate for the Sydney Olympics before earning a starting role for the Athens Games, where the U.S. men finished fourth.
In Beijing the men rolled undefeated through the competition and upset favorite Brazil in the final match.
Priddy, 34, was the United States’ second-leading scorer — behind Olympic MVP Clay Stanley — with 112 total points as outside hitter.
The team also was marked by tragedy when coach Hugh McCutcheon’s father-in-law was murdered at a Chinese tourist attraction a day before the opening ceremonies. His mother-in-law was seriously injured by the knife-wielding attacker, who afterward jumped to his death.
McCutcheon missed the team’s first three matches to be with his family.
“It was just such a terrible thing that took place and their lives were forever changed. It didn’t motivate us, there was nothing positive that came out of it. It was a tragedy. It is a tragedy,” Priddy said.
“In terms of the volleyball, I’ve heard Hugh say the best compliment to what he was able to build was that in his absence, we were able to carry on and we were able to play his style and his system,” he added. “That’s all we could do.”
Following Beijing, McCutcheon shifted to the U.S. women’s national team, which won the Olympic silver medal. The women are currently ranked No. 1 in the world and considered among the favorites for a podium finish in London.
Alan Knipe took leave from his job as the head coach at Long Beach State to take over the men’s national team, which is ranked No. 5 in the world and coming off a silver-medal finish in the FIVB World League. Poland swept the United States in the final to win its first title in the international event.
“Any pressure that we feel is for sure self-induced, as we’ve had sort of a mountaintop experience in ‘08 and lots of peaks and valleys over the last four years,” said Priddy, who graduated from Mountain Pointe in 1996. “The world is not really looking at our team and saying, ‘They could be a medal favorite.’ But we’re confident that when we play to the best of our abilities, we can beat anybody in the world. We’ve proven that, but not at that level over time. That’s the next step.”
As a kid, Priddy’s first exposure to volleyball was in a summer school physical education class in Florida before moving to Arizona and helping the Pride to the 1995 as a setter.
After playing his playing days for the Pride were over, he went to Loyola Marymount where he was first-team All-American his senior year. He graduated from LMU in 2000 with a degree in communication studies.
Mountain Pointe coach Fred Mann has seen Priddy, who is married to Lindsay Pierce, and said there was something special about him from the very start.
“I know this sounds cliche, but he was the best leader we ever had,” Mann said. “Reid was just a super efficient kid and didn’t want to waste a single minute of practice. I remember one of his teammates asked a question about something and Reid got all fired up and said, ‘Stop wasting time, we’ve been over that a thousand times.’ It might sound like a negative but as a coach I loved having someone like that.
“He was a super athlete that could do anything on the court, but I’ll never forget his ability to be a leader.”
And now he is doing it as the captain of the U.S. Olympic team.
“To be honest, it isn’t surprising at all,” Mann said. “He demonstrated that type of ability from the beginning.”
• Staff writer Jason P. Skoda contributed to this article.