Before they took the court for their varsity volleyball match on Thursday, players from Skyview and Prairie gathered in a Prairie classroom to meet an Olympian.
Taylor Sander, a member of the United States men’s volleyball team, was happy to share the experience of winning a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics. He showed off the medal he won when the United States edged Russia in the bronze medal match and answered questions about the life of a professional volleyball player.
“To be able to come here today and share my experience with people who supported me, who watched us on TV and cheered us on, is cool for me,” Sander said.
Sander is married to 2011 Skyview graduate Rachel McQuivey. The couple — who met at Brigham Young University where Rachel competed in track and field — are here for a post-Olympics visit. Family friend Kevin Shirley, whose daughter Hannah plays for Skyview, suggested Thursday’s gathering.
Prairie senior Tessa Doerfler said that hearing an Olympian say he gets nervous during games resonated with her.
“What he said about nerves and just being yourself on the court instead of trying to live up to expectations. Just play your game,” she said. “I get a lot nerves during a game, so hearing him being able to relate to that is really cool.”
Skyview senior Hannah Shirley said it is nice to have an Olympian to look up to. She said Sander’s message about the importance of teamwork hits home. As does the amount of work he puts into his sport.
“It was kind of inspiring to hear how when he was younger he didn’t expect to be in the Olympics and how he was able to reach that goal,” Shirley said.
It was an experience relished by Sander, an outside hitter from Huntington Beach, Calif. Highlights were walking in the Opening Ceremony with Team USA and competing for a medal, he said. Sure, losing the semifinal match to Italy — a match the United States led 2-1 — was painful.
“Now I’m not so sad about it,” Sander said. “It’s something that we used for motivation in the bronze medal match. To be able to play for a medal was amazing. We relished that moment. We can’t win a gold medal, but we can end the season we had on a win.”
Rachel Sander said supporting her husband in Rio was both stressful and rewarding.
“I was in tears every time they announced Team USA. It was really humbling to be there,” she said.
The travels continue next month. Taylor Sander, who previously played two seasons of professional volleyball in Italy, has a one-year contract to play for a pro volleyball team in China.
“I’m excited,” Rachel said. “It’ll be a totally different experience.”