Spring break fun

by Jennie Finch on April 19, 2012

Last week we went on vacation!  We got out of town and hit the road, just me and my boys.  A great way to begin because there’s nothing like that feeling of a change in routine, a break in schedule.  No school, no work! We’re off to lay on the beach, swim in the pool, fish, jet-ski and much more! Casey and I were talking and this is really our first family vacation with no work. We couldn’t wait to put our toes in the sand!

 
We’ve been going pretty hard already this spring, though, and it’s another kind of blessing to be able to spend time making memories as a family.  Diesel cut his first two teeth recently.  Ace “helped” him with his second one by giving him something hard to suck on.  Little D bit down on it and the tooth popped through. Ace was so excited that he’d had a part in it. Like every mama out there, each milestone reminds me that even though the days sometimes go slowly, the years go quickly.  A few days to pause and soak it all in is just what we needed.
 
We did it all while we were there, and had a blast!  Diesel had his first taste of sand.  A few baby fist fulls made it into his mouth before anyone could stop him.  He’s exploring and discovering in his own way, I guess!  We went deep sea fishing, too, which was so fun.  It was Diesel’s first real boat ride, and Ace loved looking at (but not touching!) all the jellyfish we caught in the net.  We got to see all the fish swimming next to the boat.  We didn’t catch them, but they were so beautiful swimming alongside.  It’s all so amazing. Science in everyday life. Such an adventure for me and my boys! The joy of watching them discover this world and all its blessings is hard to put into words.
 
We’re back now, and there’s lots going on.  The end of school is around the corner. My Oklahoma camp is coming up! An appearance in New Orleans at the zoo on April 27, and a trip to visit the Jennie Finch Softball Academy at Diamond Nation, and see how my Finch Aces are doing.  Looking forward to it all, and feeling gratitude for the many family and work blessings in my life!
 

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Spring has sprung!

by Jennie Finch on April 12, 2012

Spring is here! It’s been an amazing few months, and a great start to the year. I’ve been blessed to be part of the ESPN team this spring, working in the booth at a few softball games.  It’s a little nerve-wracking but I’m working at it.  Practicing, getting my reps in, learning all the production terms, timing, and putting hay in the barn all the time.  I love it, though.  I get to talk to coaches, players, and be around the game in the College atmosphere. There is nothing like it and it only keeps growing and getting better! It keeps the great memories I have fresh for me, and of course working alongside softball greats like Michelle Smith, Beth Mowins, and more is always an honor!

Last week I was lucky enough to be working with the folks at the American Heart Association to help promote their Billion Calorie Count-UP.  They are such a fun team of people! We had so many laughs, and I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Arnett, who is president of the AHA.  She knows so much, and their message was so humbling and inspiring all at once: less than 1% of Americans meet the AHA standards for a healthy heart, yet heart disease is completely preventable.  Just walking 30 minutes a day will really improve heart health. It’s a such a simple way for us all to be heart healthy!
 
Mentioning this experience wouldn’t be complete without a shout out to Amanda, Patricia and Christy who work tirelessly behind the scenes at AHA to get the message out! In the many hours we spent together between interviews, Amanda gave me the best info on eyelash extensions, which truly seem to be a miraculous invention. Patricia gave me insight into what my world will be like when my boys are teenagers — I’m so not ready! And Christy was my fellow tall-girl on the shoot. Nothing like having someone around who feels your pain when it comes to finding pants in extra-long lengths!
 
I feel so blessed to have these little adventures and meet new people, but at the end of it, I love getting home to my boys.  They have my heart, and I miss them terribly the whole time I’m gone. Their sweet, little faces, tears and smiles, hugs and cuddles.
 

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Wounded Warriors, the Power of i, and Billy the Goat!

by Jennie Finch on March 2, 2012

 

I can’t believe it’s already March! The holidays flew by, and my boys are keeping me busy.  Like every working mom, I’m trying to keep the balance in my life between work and home.  My little guys rule my heart, though! Every day I spend with them is such a precious blessing.  Baby D is getting bigger and is on the go, crawling around after his big brother, and Ace is more active all the time.  He keeps me on my toes, and there’s so much to do living in the country.  We love getting on our four-wheelers and heading out as a family.  This place is truly becoming my home, and I love it here.  It will be a new experience staying through the spring.  Casey’s decided to retire from baseball, which means for the first time ever we’re not packing up and heading out to spring training.  I’m so very proud of him for his many accomplishments on the field over the years, but even more proud to be his wife and see how much he loves his family.
 
We were so lucky to be invited to play in a celebrity softball game on the Fellowship of Christian Athletes All Star team in Florida this winter.  Our opponents were the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball team, and they were incredible.  You can read more about them here. Their motto is “Life without Limbs is Limitless” and I believe it.  It was inspiring to be around these brave young men who have served our country so selflessly! We had so much fun and were blessed to spend time with them and hear their stories.  Casey and I were so impressed that we decided to host  a game here.  The Battle on the Bayou is happening this summer right here in Louisiana, and we’re putting together our celebrity team right now.  Tickets are for sale online with proceeds going to benefit Wounded Warriors, just click here.
 
Mid-February I received an email from my friend Julie Bartel at USA Softball telling me that I was to be given a Power of i award, and they wanted to present it to me the following week at the 5th Annual IOC Conference on Women in Sport.  It was a chance to speak about softball coming back into the Olympics to the people who make the decision.  I was so very honored to receive the award, and to have a chance to speak about something so close to my heart!! There’s a link to my speech here.  It hurts that I haven’t left the sport better than I came into it, that without IOC funding it’s harder for girls around the world to play. I was honored to be part of a rallying point to bring it and opportunities for girls back.  One of my heroes, Christine Brennan wrote this article about women’s sports in the Olympics.  I have said it so many times before, and I will say it again, sports changed my life, and it can make the lives of little girls everywhere better.  Anything I can do to help girls who want to play get involved in sports I’ll do!
 
I’ve been busy working over the past months on my new line of apparel with Mizuno.  It’s the Jennie Finch Field Collection, and we’re already putting together ideas and tweaking things for the second generation of apparel.  Having something like this has been a long time dream for me. It’s exciting to see the first pieces in stores!  I visited Dick’s in Atlanta last weekend to promote the launch of the line and got to visit with so many wonderful people.  Such a gift to be able to see the future of softball in the girls who came to visit with their parents.  Truly amazing!  Pictures from the event are here.  I never quite know what will happen while I’m away from my boys.  This time while I was gone Casey surprised me by bringing home a new goat. We named him Billy of course!
 
There are many, many good things ahead including days spent living the Country Life with my boys, two more stops at Dicks Sporting Goods stores, a magazine cover shoot and an appearance in Texas for the opening of a new facility.  Counting my blessings daily, and still dreaming & believing about the future of my sport and women’s sports in general!
 

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World League : Intercontinental Round by Brian Thornton

by Brynn Murphy on July 10, 2012

 

Italy: First off let me say that they are never kidding about it being a truly intercontinental experience. There's no second off following this first off. I just like beginning sentences with "first off". In fact, there will be many things to follow but I'm not going to number and list them. You can do that if you'd like in your head though from here on out. I would never ridicule you for your savant-like behavior. Seventh off, it was great to finally play in Italy. I was lucky enough to visit the country on christmas vacation and spend a lovely christmas eve dinner with a ton of American volleyball players all wondering how I was able to get a small retreat from Poland. Christmas was great and I really enjoyed the country and was looking forward to playing a little volleyball there during world league. It didn't really go as well as I had imagined. We lost to France, barely pulled out a 5 game thriller against an emotionally driven South Korean team and got drubbed by Italy in one of the best serving performances I have ever played against, if not the best. They had these unbelievable chocolate croissants at the hotel though so the weekend wasn't a total loss. 
 
France: We went to France. We won three matches. We ate Thai Food for 11 straight meals. And it was good Thai food. Nobody complained of repetitiveness. I have played in france before and have been on the receiving end of some bad asian food there. It's actually difficult to find good asian food in France. They nailed it. They pretty much nailed everything in France actually. Even the DJ hammered a rendition of a song that went "You have to pump it up, you gotta pump it up" permanently into my brain so that i can't see a ball blocked on the volleyball court without immediately singing those lines. He played it every time after a block. So roughly about 268 times. most of those belonging to David Smith that weekend. For those of you that don't know David Smith is hearing impaired and went to school with me all 4 years at UC Irvine. I've seen countless articles written about him over the years with his so-called "disability" being the thematic presence in the article. I hate that word. Terrible word. For one reason he wouldn't be quite the outstanding individual today if he was a "normy" such as myself. Don't get me wrong…he would still be an outstanding individual but he just wouldn't be the same David Smith who never complains about a bad set, yells genuinely at the top of his lungs with excitement after a stuff, falls asleep in 3 seconds flat, can never really get heckled, and shakes his head and gives me a "really this joke hasn't gotten old in 8 years?" look if i cover my mouth with my hand when speaking to him. Basically the David Smith I have come to know and love over the years. Also, I'm convinced that this thing works out in volleyball as an advantage. He's the best read blocker I have ever seen and I think some of it is strictly from his ability to pick things up that the rest of us "normies" can't because we take advantage of having all of our senses every day in our lives. Like Spidey with his spider senses. Dave smith has super hero read blocking senses. Dave Smith Senses. Speaking of which, no way this social network dude can live up to Tobias Maguire. He couldn't even hold onto The Facebook….now we expect him to hold onto Mary Jane while bouncing from skyscraper to skyscraper. This section should be titled "David Smith and bizarre spiderman tangent" but instead it's titled "France". Sorry.
 
South Korea: We flew directly from France. We won three matches. The hotel was filled with sweet electronic gizmos just as you might expect which was awesome. I like lights and pushing buttons. If I were a fish I wouldn't make it long. There's no lure I wouldn't chase. Side note: Don't go to Outback Steakhouse and order whatever it is they call the shrimp pasta in South Korea. You'll be sick for a couple days. Great decision by me. I couldn't have just gotten a steak that would be far too predictable. I had to go with an Australian American take on an Italian seafood dish in Asia. Smart. 
 
Dallas: We did enough to get to world league finals in Bulgaria by beating Italy in the last match. It was in front of a heavily weighted junior olympics crowd which was taking place at the same time in Dallas. All i really want to say here is that it was a lot of fun to see some of my old club coaches and watch my old juniors club play. It brought me back. I also want to say Thanks to USA volleyball for putting on a great event. The Omni hotel was fantastic and so were the many USA volleyball employees that were there to make it a great world league weekend.  You are not thanked enough for your time….so Thank you. Onto the finals in Bulgaria….
 
-BT

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What a summer! by Jordan Larson

by Brynn Murphy on June 19, 2012

Hello everyone, 

My apologizes for the delay I have been training hard in preparation for London.  Here is a summary of where I left off from my last blog.  Enjoy! 

After finishing in third place in Champions League, it was time to go back to Russia and finish up the league. Before going to Baku, we won our first semi-final match against Omsk in the series of 3. Although our team was more talented than Omsk, we still struggled against them. We beat them in 4 sets at home and then secured our berth into the final round with a win on the road in 5 sets.  There were times when we were playing good volleyball and other times when I didn't even recognize my team.  It was ugly, but we got through it and were on to the finals.  By winning this game we not only advanced to the finals but we also qualified for Champions league next year. While my focus was still on winning the finals, it was a huge relief to qualify for Champions League.

After beating Omsk, we headed back to Kazan and got a good week of training in before taking on Dinamo- Moscow in the finals.  If you remember from my earlier blog we played Moscow in the finals of the Cup of Russia and lost, but I was not going to let that happen again.  We knew it was going to be a tough match- up, but we were ready to take on the challenge to bring the title and cup back to Kazan.  Since we were first in the league all season we got to host the first two games of the series of 5 at our home.  The first game at home was a breeze.  We played very well as a team and it was great to see.  I thought to myself if we can play like that Moscow has no chance.  Unfortunately, we did not have the same outcome in the second game of the series. Moscow came out strong and we couldn’t find an answer.  The series was now tied 1-1 and we had to go to Moscow and try and to win 2 games on their home court.  This was going to be a very hard task, but knew we had it in us.  

The next day we were off to Moscow to win the Championship.  We came out strong in game 3 and won 3-1.  There was no time to celebrate because we had to turn around the next day and try to do it again.  Moscow just couldn't control us and we won the 4th game in 5 sets.  It was one of the most exhausting series and final game I have ever played it.  After we won I just stood in awe… thinking, “Oh my gosh! We won!!”  I could not be happier for my team and management.  It was one of our goals for the season and I loved seeing the excitement on everyone's face after winning.  This was my 3rd championship won in Russia and I am the 1st foreigner in the Women's league to win back-to-back championships.  I thought that was a pretty cool honor, but I’m not done yet! I have signed one more year with Dinamo-Kazan and have one more big goal in mind, which is to win Champions League.  I think we will have the team to do it and great management to get us where we need to be.  

  

After winning the final game it was time to get on the plane back to the States.  Talk about the best feeling in the world….winning a great match and jumping on a plane back home to see your family after being away for about five months! :)  I was all smiles and my husband was along for the ride. It was such a great experience and I’m excited to be able to share it with our future children.  I did not have much time to spend at home because it was time to start training with the National team.  It is always nice to see everyone at home—even if just for a short time—but it was time to get back to work.  

I have been dreaming about this summer my entire life and I can’t believe it’s already here.  We have been training hard for the past month and half, gearing up for our first tournament of the season, the World Grand Prix.  This year we will be traveling to Dominican Republic, Brazil, Thailand, and the finals will be in China.  After Grand Prix they will announce the 12 that will be representing Team USA in the 2012 Olympic Games.  Seems strange that I will know within the next month or so whether or not I will be in London for the Olympics.  It gives me chills every time I think about it.  

Dream Big & Never Settle.  

Jordan  

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Mizuno Players Reach #1 and #2 in World Rankings

by Iver Maple on June 11, 2012

 

Luke Donald and Stacy Lewis at the top of their games

Stacy Lewis is on a remarkable run in ladies golf which has elevated her to #2 in the Rolex World Rankings.  A runners up finish in the LPGA Championship means Lewis has finished 1st, 1st, 2nd in her last four events. 

With Luke Donald already at #1 in the men’s game, Mizuno players are now flying higher than ever before.  Donald has now held the #1 ranking for a total of 48 weeks – only 5 players have held the position longer. 

Donald and Lewis have relied on Mizuno for many years.  Throughout their college years and also now during their professional careers, both Stacy and Luke have chosen Mizuno irons to help them rise to the top of the golf world.   

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Author Iver Maple

With over 14 years of Marketing, Communications, and Public Relations Experience, Iver Maple has been "bleeding Mizuno blue" for over seven years.  A graduate of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and now residing in Atlanta, home to Mizuno USA's headquarters, he has now officially acclimated to "Southern Life" from his original roots in Long Island, New York.  Outside of his passion for golf, he enjoys tennis, rooting for his beloved Commodores, and hiking with his dog 'Cutler.'

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Comforts of Home & Back to Training by Alisha Glass

by Brynn Murphy on June 6, 2012

Hello Mizuno People,

It has been a crazy couple of months.  Coming back from Poland and starting training with the National team has been quite the whirlwind.  I got to go home, and if you’ve read my previous blogs, I got to have my favorite sandwich from Sisson’s Main Street Specialties.  I’ve tried to explain how wonderful it is, but maybe this will help.  While I was in Poland, I experimented with being a vegetarian, or more specifically a Pescatarian.  My reasons for the change weren’t typical.  I used to be a very picky eater and I was never particularly excited about protein sources like beef, chicken, pork.  I liked them, but mostly the reason for me eating them was to get the protein we athletes need.  Through being a vegetarian, I’ve learned to like fish more, and I’ve found many other protein sources that I can incorporate into my diet that I never thought about before, like putting black beans and nuts into a salad, or making dishes with quinoa.  So back to the sandwich, I hadn’t eaten any meat until I got back home and I thought about missing out on that sandwich, and I decided that it was too good to miss out on, so I ate it and it was WONDERFUL!!

After home, I flew out to Anaheim and got started training.  The first couple weeks are always unusual because we are all trickling in from our various countries.  We haven’t seen anyone in six months and it’s great to catch up and also show the progress we’ve made as players.  We had comfort in our time getting back into the swing of things because we had already qualified; it’s the way to go.  However, we felt a little anxiety for the men who needed to qualify, but were trickling in just like us.  Fortunately, their first chance to qualify was on our own turf.  They played the qualifier in The Pyramid and Long Beach State.  It’s so fun to have an International tournament in America.  People showed their support and the guys had some pretty good crowds, especially for the finals.  They used that to their advantage and were able to qualify.  It was so fun to watch!  It was also great to see Emily Adams Knight and Brynn Murphy from Mizuno.

Now that both National Teams have qualified, we can focus on becoming the best team that we both can be.  We have to be good on the court, but this year we’ve done some things that will help us come together off the court.  We got a visit from a couple of War Veterans and a member of our National Sitting Women’s Volleyball team.  One of the War Veterans was severely wounded and lost his sight.  Hearing all of their stories, about their pride in representing our country and selfless service, it makes you realize that in a different way, we are doing the same thing.  We have to represent our country at the Olympics and it makes it more powerful when you hear other people’s personal accounts doing the same, just on a different level.  It was an emotional day, but I think it really had a huge impact on us.

We have one major tournament left before the Olympics – The Grand Prix.  It will be an opportunity for the team to improve, and also a time for player’s to prove themselves worthy of making that 12 person roster that will go to London.  It’s a pretty stressful time.  It’s what the last three summers have been about; it’s what we’ve been working towards.  There is so much time put in and so many sacrifices made.  No matter what happens, everyone will have played their own part and made an impact somehow.  Whether it’s being a starter, or being that player that potentially doesn’t get to go to London, it makes the people around them better just by battling everyday.  It takes the entire group focused on one common goal -to be the best USA team we can be.  It’s a powerful thing.

-Alisha

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NORCECA by Ryan Millar

by Brynn Murphy on June 4, 2012

I have officially been a part of 4 NORCECA Olympic zone qualifiers, and I have won each of them.  4 times I have been a part of those great teams, and 4 times we have booked our tickets to the Olympic Games.  It is and always will be a great honor to represent our amazing country.  It never gets old hearing the Star Spangled Banner played before a match, or after a tournament win.  I proudly put my hand over my heart and sing along with the words.  I have been fortunate enough to have done that for quite some time now. 

This past qualification tournament was just a little sweeter, as we got to qualify in front of our home fans in Long Beach, CA.  Long Beach is just down the freeway from where we train in Anaheim.  The excitement in the gym was electric.  Thousands of fans chanting U-S-A.  Proud wives, kids, parents, and friends letting us know that they were all behind us.  I think for most of the people in that gym, besides watching us play in London on TV, their Olympic experience came to an end.  I am just grateful to USA Volleyball for giving them that chance to feel the excitement that goes along with the Olympic Games. 

London will be my 4th Olympic Games.  Each one different but special.  Going back as defending champions is something that I am very proud of.  I look forward to the challenge of getting back to the finals and seeing what we are made of.  We continue to make strides in practice.  We continue to work hard.  In the end, that is all you can do.  You are either good enough, or someone else is better.  I think we are good enough.  There will be no better time to catch fire than at the end of July through the middle of August. 

Where is your journey taking you??

Ryan

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Stacy Lewis Dominates The Field at The ShopRite Classic

by Iver Maple on June 4, 2012

 

 

Stacy Lewis recorded her second season victory at the ShopRite LPGA Classic this weekend after carding rounds of 65-65-71. She took a commanding lead early in the week, entering the final round with a six-stroke lead over No. 32 Anna Nordqvist, seven-stroke lead over No. 20 Azahara Munoz and eight-strokes ahead of No. 1 Yani Tseng. She finished four strokes ahead of No. 65 Katherine Hull.

With this win, Lewis is predicted to move to third in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, surpassing Cristie Kerr as the top American golfer on Tour. So far this season, Stacy has recorded six top-10s including a win at the Mobile Bay LGPA Classic.

Stacy’s Bag:

JPX-800 Driver

MP-650 Fairway Woods

JPX-800 PRO Irons

MP T-11 Wedges

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Author Iver Maple

With over 14 years of Marketing, Communications, and Public Relations Experience, Iver Maple has been "bleeding Mizuno blue" for over seven years.  A graduate of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and now residing in Atlanta, home to Mizuno USA's headquarters, he has now officially acclimated to "Southern Life" from his original roots in Long Island, New York.  Outside of his passion for golf, he enjoys tennis, rooting for his beloved Commodores, and hiking with his dog 'Cutler.'

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Relentless Donald Wins Again at Wentworth, Regains World #1

by Iver Maple on May 29, 2012

There was a certainty about Luke Donald’s win at Wentworth’s West course to reclaim his BMW PGA Championship and world #1 ranking.

Into the back nine and Donald’s relentless iron play, razor sharp wedges and laser like putting had extinguished any remaining doubts. The galleries knew they were watching an exhibition by a player in complete control of his game.

The normal tensions of Wentworth’s 18th were replaced by the warmth and appreciation of a crowd witnessing something out of the ordinary. While the other players over reached in attempt to catch Donald, Luke played his own game (four rounds in the 60's) – which when added up to a 15 under total, was comfortably good enough.

Donald’s irons and wedges were mesmerizing. From positions other players make bogey, Donald consistently makes par. When par looks probable, the result is often birdie. Bunkers look as welcoming a landing place as the green when you play from the sand like Donald does.

For those in the gallery that play the game, this was an exhibition in how to manage your scorecard and emotions. After years of watching 350 yard drives and a game unattainable to most – watching Donald gives every golfer hope. A masterclass in playing one shot at a time and thinking your way around the course.

Having mastered the art of winning golf tournaments (six in the last 2 seasons), and establishing himself as the world #1 – Donald now moves onto greater ambitions.

“What a place to do it,” Donald said. “To come and defend and get back to No1 is very sweet indeed. Obviously, my next step is to win majors. I feel I am getting closer. These victories are key to taking confidence you need into the big four.”

Luke Donald plays Mizuno MP-59 irons and MP T-11 wedges.

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Author Iver Maple

With over 14 years of Marketing, Communications, and Public Relations Experience, Iver Maple has been "bleeding Mizuno blue" for over seven years.  A graduate of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and now residing in Atlanta, home to Mizuno USA's headquarters, he has now officially acclimated to "Southern Life" from his original roots in Long Island, New York.  Outside of his passion for golf, he enjoys tennis, rooting for his beloved Commodores, and hiking with his dog 'Cutler.'

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Norcecas by Brian Thornton

by Brynn Murphy on May 29, 2012

The Norceca olympic qualifier at the Pyramid in Long Beach was the best thing to happen to USA volleyball in awhile. Mind you I have not been around that long but I have never seen or heard of anything like the environment I had the privilege of experiencing last weekend. Particularly Saturday night against Canada. The day before the match I had told one of my friends that I thought it was going to be electric in there for the finals. I was wrong. it was far better than that. It is not often past college that you get to have the pleasure of playing at home. It's an entirely different thing when you are playing in front of a sold out, rowdy, American crowd at home with an Olympic berth on the line. Honestly, It was magical. And I rarely use that word. Partly because it's a bit cliche and emasculating…..only to be used in such desperate times as a proposal beneath the eiffel tower or when Criss Angel decides to levitate across the sky. The latter of those instances, however, a clear and severe misuse of the word. That's just miraculously genuine. We arrived on the bus to around 200-300 fans waiting for us. They were decked out in red, white and blue and carrying various signs. It looked like Monday Night Raw had fallen on the fourth of July. Somebody was carrying a huge cut out of Reid Priddy's head around solidifying his lifelong dream of becoming a life-size character in the video game NBA Jam. It was just truly a scene you don't see with volleyball in the United States often and it was "magical" to be a part of. The welcoming got everybody fired up for the match. It was impossible not to. The energy carried on throughout the warm up, gave me goosebumps during the National Anthem and stayed with me far past the 3-0 victory against Canada qualifying us for the 2012 Olympics. One of the most cliche and overused statements by athletes is "we couldn't have done it without our fans" but we really couldn't have done it without the fans and the energy that was created in the Pyramid that night. Thanks to everybody that made that happen….because everyone present that night had a piece in the qualification. Hopefully we can carry it to London.

~Brian

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Stacy Lewis Wins The Mobile Bay LPGA Classic

by Iver Maple on May 2, 2012

Mizuno Ambassador Stacy Lewis fired four rounds in the 60’s to take home a stroke victory in the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic. It was the first time this LPGA season that a tournament winner has shot four rounds below 70.

Stacy had to hold off a world class field as she took a two-stroke lead into the final round. Through a gutty performance, she was able to withstand all challengers, including an impressive run from LPGA rookie Lexi Thompson. Stacy was solid in every facet of her game, which allowed her to score her second LPGA title in her young career. 

Here’s a look at what’s in Stacy’s bag:

Driver

Mizuno JPX-800  (9.0 deg.)

Fairway Wood

Mizuno MP-650  (15.0 deg.)

Hybrid

Mizuno MP-650  (17.0 deg.)

Irons

Mizuno JPX-800 Pro  (4-pw)

Wedges

MP T-11  (52, 56, & 60 deg.)

White Satin finish

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Author Iver Maple

With over 14 years of Marketing, Communications, and Public Relations Experience, Iver Maple has been "bleeding Mizuno blue" for over seven years.  A graduate of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and now residing in Atlanta, home to Mizuno USA's headquarters, he has now officially acclimated to "Southern Life" from his original roots in Long Island, New York.  Outside of his passion for golf, he enjoys tennis, rooting for his beloved Commodores, and hiking with his dog 'Cutler.'

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A Month of Firsts by Jordan Larson

by Brynn Murphy on April 30, 2012

Hello everyone!

I have had a lot of first's this past month. My first trip to Baku Azerbaijan, my first ever hockey game, and my first time competing in the Final Four of Champions League. Here is a quick recap on my exciting month.

After I had last updated I had just returned back to Kazan from London. Boy what a great trip that was. Our next Champions league match was going to be held in Baku Azerbaijan. I had never been there and did not know what to expect. Many other American players play in this league and I had heard nothing but good things about this city. When we arrived in Baku I was honestly surprised. It is located right on the Caspian Sea. In my head I had visioned it would be a lot like Russia but I was blown away with how beautiful it was. The day before our game we had the morning off and were able to take a nice walk down by the sea. The weather was nice and it was very relaxing to be walking by the water.

We played against Azerail Baku the next day. This team includes some of my USA team including Heather Bown and Jennifer Tamas. It is always a nice refresher to see other Americans as it reminds you so much of home. We had to win this match to advance to the Final Four. Making it to the Final four of Champions League is a pretty big deal. I would almost compare it to the final four of the NCAA. We ended up losing the match in 3 but because we had beat them the previous week in Kazan it was forced to go to a golden set. I was quite nervous going into this last set as it was only a game to 15 and we weren't playing the best as a team in the previous sets. Baku definitely had the momentum going into the golden set. We regrouped as a team and pulled it together. We knew we weren't going to be able to do this all as individuals so we just took one point at a time and we pulled it off. It was such an exciting to end the match and everyone was more than thrilled to be going to the Final four. The final four was not for another 3 weeks so it was back to Kazan to finish up the Russian league.

After we returned to Kazan the club treated us with tickets to the hockey game. The team in Kazan is one of the best in the league. I was very excited to go as this was going to be my first hockey game. I was super impressed with how well they could skate and how good of vision the goalie's have to have. I have seen hockey on tv but nothing compares to it live. Apparently there is a difference between the NHL and the Russian league in that the Russians play on Olympic size ice. I guess in the states people want more action so that’s why they play on smaller ice. (news to me!) I was very engaged the whole game and Kazan pulled out the win with the first goal in overtime. It was a great experience and I look forward to going to another game in the future.

A week or so later we had a nice visitor come back to Kazan. It was THE Lloy Ball. For those of you who do not know him, he is a four time Olympian and a gold medalist setter. He had played in Kazan the past 4 years and was in Kazan for my first two years here. Luke and I became really good friends with him and his family. He now plays in Ufa, a city very close to Kazan. One evening we were sitting on the computer Facebook chatting with Lloy, and he got a wild hair and said I have two days off and I'm coming to Kazan. He was in town for a total of 24 hours and we made the most of it. We went to dinner at a local Cuban Restaurant (one of my favs!). After that we went to a new restaurant here in Kazan and then topped the night off with a little dancing at a new club. It was great catching up with Lloy and spending time with him. Since I have been in Kazan Lloy has made an impact on the player I am today. He has so much experience in the game of volleyball. I am so grateful for him and the time he has spent answering all of my questions. A great athlete and person. Thanks Lloy!

After Lloy came to visit it was time to get ready for the Final four of Champions League. I had been anticipating this for weeks as this is one of the top tournaments to play in. We had a tough draw which was against my teammate Logan Tom's team, Fenderbache. They have a lot of talented players and we were for sure the under dogs. That wasn't going to stop me and my team from trying our best. We came out strong in game one and won the first set. We tried to keep the momentum going but they were to strong for us and we made some unforced errors. We lost in 4 but I was very pleased with our performance as a team. I felt like we left it all out there which is an important lesson I have learned over the years. We had no time to rest as we were playing against another teammate and former teammate of mine the next day, Lindsey Berg and Sarah Schlutz formerly known as Sarah Paven. We played a solid match and we came out victorious. All in all it was a good weekend for us. Of course we wanted to win it all but this just wasn't in the cards for us. I look forward to competing in Champions League next season and get another shot at the title.

Dream Big & Never Settle

Jordan

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Back at it... by Ryan Millar

by Brynn Murphy on April 5, 2012

One of the best days of the year is always the day that you are heading to the airport to go home after a long season overseas. This season was no different. Playing in Russia was good for a number of reasons, but nothing beats being at home with your family and loved ones. Luckily the way my contract was set up, I got to leave Russia earlier than everyone else and I was able to get back to with Team USA much earlier than usual.
 
I am really looking forward to hosting the Olympic Qualifier event at the pyramid at Long Beach State on the 7th through the 12th of May (shameless but necessary plug). It will be the beginning test for our team as we continue on our journey to repeat as Olympic Champions in London. I have been back training with the team for about 3 weeks now and it is going about as well as it can not having most of our guys back yet. I believe the official start date is the 11th of April. It will be great to have everyone back so we can try to work out the kinks as quickly as possible. Right now in the gym we have a lot of new faces, mixed in with a few old ones. Some of the veterans in the gym right now are myself, Clay Stanley (coming back from knee surgery), Riley Salmon, Rich Lambourne, and Gabe Gardner.
 
I am excited about our teams chances. I am confident that everyone will come back focused and ready to perform. I read a tweet that that Olympics are only 115 days away. That is crazy to me. It seems like just yesterday that we were in Beijing. It’s a different quad, with a different coaching staff, and quite a few different players, but I hope that the end result will be the same. Even if it is not, remember that the journey is the prize. The sacrifice, the hard work, the practices, the dedication to excellence, the wins, and losses along the way are what makes all of this fun. Never take the journey for granted because without the journey, there can be no destination...
 
Ryan

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Playoffs in Poland by Alisha Glass

by Brynn Murphy on April 2, 2012

It's playoff time here in Poland!! We just finished the semifinals against a team called Dabrowa.  The series was best 3 out of 5.  We tied the series 2-2 and played the fifth match at home.  It was a crazy match.  We came out really strong in the first set and killed them, they came back and won the next two sets.  They were close but they came out on top.  The tide had turned, a lot!! We had to keep the hopes of getting to the finals, so although we were down in the fourth, we battled back and made it go to the fifth set.  We were optimistic until it was 4-8 at the side change.  Then we knew we were in for a fight.  We battled back but it seemed to late because we were still down 10-13 - but then we found some serious inner strength and came back to win 15-13.  It was crazy!! We were in shock a little bit, extremely tired, but so very excited!! 

Our 15-13 win in the seminfinals!

We're moving on to the finals now against, Muszyna, the #1 team.  We are #2 so it should be another battle.  We lost to them the last time we played them, but we think that we've done some serious growing as a team so we're hopeful that things will go differently this time around.

I'm also very excited because my mom is coming to see the finals! She'll get to see where I've been living and what I've been up to these last couple months.  I'm very excited to show her our city and for her to get to see our team play!! I can't wait for that.  First things first though, we have two matches away on Monday and Tuesday, then a week in-between, then we come back home to play another two, depending on how the series starts off. 

This is what overseas volleyball is all about.  Playing in competitive leagues where you learn a lot about yourself and your interactions with teammates.  I think this team has grown and so have I.  There's still so much left to learn, but I'm really enjoying doing it!!

~Alisha

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Home may be where the Heart is…but my heart is in Southern California by Brian Thornton

by Brynn Murphy on March 29, 2012

Due to unforeseen and unfortunate circumstances I returned home early from my team in Poland. I had a good time while I was out there and I was able to make a few friends that I know will be friends for life. A few of them I look forward to beating on the court this summer. I read somewhere recently that people often times don't recognize opportunity because it doesn't always manifest itself as exactly that. Although I returned home for reasons that were gloomy at best, I'm now choosing to view my early arrival as opportunity. Opportunity to make strides both on and off the court. Being home early gives me the opportunity to get the coaching I need in order to improve my game and the opportunity to get better in the weight room as well.
 
Often times with so many matches played with little rest over a long period time the weight room becomes more of an injury prevention center than anything else. Our weight coach Tim Pelot has done a great job punishing me over the last month or so. The constant play of Alien Communicational Noise over the Bose sound system in there also deserves it's kudos. I believe the kids these days are calling it Dub Step. I'm so with the times…..It seems to me that being an avid Dub Step listener is about as desirable to women as being an avid world of warcraft player…but I guess everything has its place. Dubstep = weight room. World of Warcraft = millions of parent's guest bedrooms currently occupied by twenty-somethings filling out job applications on Monster.com between group raids. I guess you shouldn't knock it 'till you try it….oh well. Knock Knock. And No…a "knock knock" joke is not coming next in text. Partly because it wouldn't work and partly because I couldn't think of one in the maximum amount of time anyone should possibly take up trying to think up a "knock, knock" joke. 3 minutes. The Knicks game is on….Jeremy Lin isn't starting anymore. That's Linsanity. Watching this is a little overBaron' now. Speaking of Linsanity….Tebow and Tebowmania to the Jets…the only thing that trade was good for is me getting to replace the word "Benny" with "Tebow" when Elton John's timeless classic comes on Jack FM. They play what they want. All joking aside, I really admire when guys do the most that they can when an opportunity finally presents itself. Such as Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin did.
 
Coming home early also provided me the unique opportunity to spend some time with my family and do things with them that I otherwise would have never been able to do or see. Let's stop for a second and appreciate the tie in from my random and senseless banter to the overall thematic presence of this blog. And we're back….Coming home early, Opportunity, Family. Nothing is more important than family. Yesterday I was able to go to my sisters senior water polo banquet and attend all of her games through her CIF run at San Clemente high school. They won CIF last year and I have always regretted not being able to see that. They fell short this year…but having the opportunity to watch her play was something that I may never get to see again because of my professional volleyball lifestyle overseas and I'm truly thankful I got to watch her this year. I've been able to spend a lot more time with my Mom and Dad…stepdad, stepmom and brother. My little brother has started a band. He has an amazing voice. It sounds like seven angels all singing at once. He's very disease-free, single and has long-flowing blonde, rockstar hair. I can't wait to see them perform their first show in the next couple of weeks. My early return home started out disconsolate and ended up as a unique and invaluable opportunity. It's good to be home.

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My Transitions Championship

by Luke Donald on March 22, 2012

My Transitions Championship win was very gratifying. I had no doubt that I would get back on track. Hard work always pays off.

I’d got off to a slow one this year but you just keep on the path of what you need to do to keep on improving and trust what you are doing. It was always going to be tough to start as quickly as I did last year but it’s now nice to get back into the winner’s circle. The rewards are great – back to world number one and great preparation for a couple of weeks’ time and the Masters.

The first time I got to world number one it was a big deal. There was a lot of shifting and changing in the rankings and suddenly I had an opportunity to do it. I was a lot more nervous trying to do that than I’ve been in trying to get it back. For a good while it was like a carrot dangling in front of my nose and I couldn’t quite grab it at first. This time, because I’d been at number one for 40 weeks, I’d experienced it all, so it wasn’t my sole focus for sure. I was more intent on winning. World number one was just an end result.

It was my fifth PGA Tour win and 16th top 10 in the last 22 tournaments. Consistency is the key to being number one. I don’t think anyone would argue with me that in the last two years I’ve been the most consistent player on the planet. You put yourself into contention every week and the results come. My short-game, my iron play and driving, are all starting to come around again.

I really enjoyed that seven-iron shot from the rough on the first playoff hole which set up the putt of just over six feet to win. I got just about perfect control. I was probably in the worst position (of the four) after the drive and then I was in the best position after the second shot. You always need a little bit of luck out of the rough; sometimes it comes out hot and sometimes dead, but that came out perfectly. The equipment definitely helped me out.

The 18th was the toughest green on the course – they don’t come much tougher.  But I work very hard on my putting and I felt very confident standing over the ball. I left  it in a great position so it was a reasonably simple putt for that green. But it’s nice to be able to hole them when they really matter.  That’s another thing that will give me more confidence going into Augusta.

Another good thing that came out of the playoff win was the way I handled the nerves and the pressure. I aimed to be as relaxed as possible. It’s important to have a little bit of a laugh and John, my caddie, and I did that before we went out. I’ve seen myself on replays in the past and I look a bit too serious. I had a good feeling, even before the week started, and that showed in my body language. John made me laugh because he told me he had a flight at 8.45 that night – he said: ‘If you could birdie the first hole I might be able to catch my flight’. I was glad to oblige.

So now the plan is to stay number one. Losing it for a couple of weeks, well the only person I can blame is myself – for not playing as well as I should at the beginning of the year. Rory played great and that’s the way the rankings work. If you have a little bit of a lapse you’re going to lose some points. The game’s in a great mix at the moment, you’ve got Rory, Tiger coming back into world reckoning, Phil Mickelson having a great run. Now I’m the one getting attention again and I like that.  It’s great to have someone like Rory pushing you and making you find that next level.

Augusta is the immediate goal now. I’ll be keeping up my practice on the full swing, working on getting my takeaway a little bit more solid. I tend to get my legs moving a little too quickly. I want to really get the head of the club moving first. That allows me to get my right shoulder at the top of the backswing to really get down in a strong position, where I have a little bit of cup in my left wrist. And I’m working on the transition again. Perhaps it was ordained I should win the Transition Championship! I’m working on letting my body start the downswing a little bit sooner so I’m able to deliver the club in a more neutral position, with the hands coming back to where they were at address. I’ll obviously be putting in a lot of work on and around the greens. The short-game and putting speed work will be important before Augusta.

Rory and I are planning to practice together. There’s a chance we might go up to Augusta together in the middle of next week. We have different games and we go about it differently. He’s already figured it out how to win majors. I certainly know my game better than I did a few years ago and I’m ever hopeful I can figure it too now. They’ve done a little work on the eighth and 16th greens but I’m sure that will be hard to spot. Apparently they’ve created a few more pin positions. I’ll have my coach Pat with me and then we’ll do a bit of work back in Florida afterwards.

For this break, too, I’m looking forward to being with the family. Little Sophia is wonderful. We’ve been very fortunate with both our girls. They both sleep all through, so no sleepless nights. I’m sure that’s part of my success. They’re a joy to be around.

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Author Luke Donald

An English native, Luke Donald is one of the world's top golfers. In addition to his top-10 world ranking, Luke has numerous wins on the PGA and European Tours, and played a key role as a member of the victorious European Ryder Cup teams in 2004, 2006, and 2010.

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Donald Rides His New MP-59 Irons On His Way Back to World #1

by Iver Maple on March 19, 2012

Luke Donald reminded the golfing world that he would be a big factor in the 2012 season with a playoff win at the Transitions Championship. 

Luke Donald at the Transitions Championship

A flushed Mizuno MP-59 seven iron into 6 feet on the playoff hole also dispelled speculation that an off season equipment change could be detrimental to his game.  The win moved Donald back to No. 1 in the world, a position he held for 40 weeks before briefly letting Rory McIlroy borrow his throne.

"Absolutely," Donald continued when asked if he felt as if he'd been written off after McIlroy's ascension to the top. "I don't pay too much attention to it, but I certainly wasn't in the media at all.  I think people thought that my last year was maybe a little bit more of a, not a fluke, but I don't think many people thought I could do that all over again this year. Hopefully I can prove them wrong."

In a final round that saw as many as six players share the lead late in the day, Donald did just that in his latest effort to convert the non-believers.

After a final-round 66 to erase a three-shot deficit, Donald landed in a four-man playoff with Jim Furyk, Robert Garrigus and Sang-Moon Bae.  There has never been a better example of our "The Iron Truth" campaign than what transpired next.  When they all teed off on the par-4 18th hole, it was Donald who was the shortest and widest off the tee, leaving himself 159 yards that played more like 170 uphill and out of the rough.  Despite playing first, Luke relied on what counts, his iron game, to seize the moment.  Donald flushed his MP-59 seven iron and the ball narrowly cleared the bunker, landed softly and settled 6 feet from the hole – setting up the winning birdie putt.

"That seven iron came out perfectly." Donald said.  “To get a win so quickly with the new irons, shows that we made a sound decision to change.  The whole point was to find an iron with the same control and shape as my old MP-62’s, but with a touch more forgiveness.  That’s why we switched to the MP-59’s.  That last shot was good early payback.”

To find out more about "The Mizuno Iron Truth" visit www.theirontruth.com.

 


 

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Author Iver Maple

With over 14 years of Marketing, Communications, and Public Relations Experience, Iver Maple has been "bleeding Mizuno blue" for over seven years.  A graduate of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and now residing in Atlanta, home to Mizuno USA's headquarters, he has now officially acclimated to "Southern Life" from his original roots in Long Island, New York.  Outside of his passion for golf, he enjoys tennis, rooting for his beloved Commodores, and hiking with his dog 'Cutler.'

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Time Flies by Jordan Larson

by Brynn Murphy on March 6, 2012

It has been a pretty "uneventful" month for me... We have been playing so many games and traveling so much it is hard to know which way is which and where the time has gone. Time flying by has been a huge blessing in that it is one step closer to seeing family and being back in the USA gym.

Since I last wrote we had qualified for the next round of Champions league. This meant we were going to draw a new team/pool and get an opportunity to play someone different. This next round of champions league would consist of one game home and away. If you win both games you move on to the next round. If you split you would have to play one "golden set" to 15 to see who would move on. We ended up drawing Dresden which is a team from Germany. Since we were the higher seed we went to Germany and played them first. When we arrived in Germany it was a nice refresher to get out of Russia for a few days and go site seeing. Since we arrived 2 days early our team arranged for us to go on a tour of a historical area of the city. We were really excited until the tour guide only spoke Russian...ugh!! I know you are probably thinking well duh you are with a bunch of Russians but I thought they would maybe do the tour in both English and Russian, but that didn't matter because just seeing the beautiful city was enough for us. After our tour we went to the local shopping mall so the girls could go crazy. It is amazing to me all the things these girls buy when we are outside of Russia. It's a real treat for them because most things they find are half the price they can find in Russia. After shopping for a couple hours and leaving empty handed it was time to go back to the hotel and prepare for the upcoming game. I had never seen this team play but knew they had a couple girls from the German national team and I knew they would put up a good fight. We played a well-rounded game and were fortunate to win in 3. After the match we had a nice relaxing evening at the hotel before heading back to Russia the next day.

After leaving Germany we were off to Ekaterinburg to play one of the other top ranked teams in the Russian league, Uralochka. We had a nice surprise waiting for us when we arrived. We would be staying at the Hyatt Regency for four days. This was so refreshing being able to stay in a five-star hotel. This was by far the nicest hotel I have ever stayed in in Russia. It was an escape to what felt like America for a short time. We played Uralochka and although they played well, we pulled the win out.

After a few short days back in Kazan it was time for Luke to go home for a while. I have been blessed in that my husband gets to travel with me. All other American national team players that are married do not travel with their significant others. For all of you that don't know Luke, he is actually a licensed structural engineer. We are currently in the process of finishing up house plans in which Luke has been doing all the work. He will be spending his time at home working out details and we hope to begin building this Spring. Luke has been putting his job on hold to follow me around the world. I am so thankful for his sacrifice so I can reach my dream. I love you!

After Luke left I have been trying to keep myself busy as I don't like to be alone. I walked into practice one morning and the director of the club pulled me aside. I was like oh gosh am I in trouble? He was informing me that a local clothing store wanted to do a photo shoot with some of us players. At first I was really confused and I thought some things got lost in translation. They told me to go to this clothing store to try on clothes for a photo shoot at a later date. I went to the clothing store and when I arrived I was so overwhelmed. It was 3 floors of high end designer clothing from the likes of Mark Jacobs and Burberry. I felt honored to be there and getting a chance to wear such beautiful clothing. I spent about an hour and half trying on clothes and after every outfit taking a picture for future reference. The photo shoot was going to be held two days later. I was nervous but excited at the same time. I arrived at the photo shoot around 12 and after 5 outfits and hair and makeup I finally left at 8. It was such a long day but a great learning experience. I have watched Americans Next Top Model and would get angry at some of the girls because they couldn't pose right... Well now I have a better understanding of how hard it really is.

As a lot of you may know I am a Mizuno ambassador and was recently contacted by Mizuno Europe to do a photo shoot in London. I did not know if I would be possible because my schedule has been so crazy. Luckily I was able to fit it in my schedule but for only one day. I left Moscow in the morning of the photo shoot and arrived in London around noon. I started the photo and video shoot around 3 and finished around 8. It was such a great experience to model for Mizuno and to promote the upcoming Olympics.

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TALKIN' VOLLEY by Brian Thornton

by Brynn Murphy on February 24, 2012

When the topic of volleyball is brought up in conversation and being an American professional volleyball player at that, there is really only one idea that I hear repeatedly over and over again (I love a topic sentence where redundancy is King). That one idea is said in a variety of different ways….a professional league in the USA, more fans at domestic games, more college volleyball, more publicity, more coverage, more recognition, more tv, just more volleyball anywhere possible, etc. It's basically the majority idea of those involved with volleyball that expansion is necessary. Expansion seems to be the ultimate goal for volleyball and while I think that's a natural idea or thought to have, I think that people don't really stop and ask themselves why? Why is expansion of the sport, or growing of the game so important? What is there to gain? Why are we not happy with the way the sport is right now? Some of the best people I have met in my life are what we consider to be volleyball people. It's a community…a family. I have seen people in this community help out people they didn't even personally know in some extreme ways and the only thing they really had in common was volleyball. It's a culture that I think can be easily lost with excessive expansion and popularity. It's a throwback sport. The best volleyball players in the country are accessible, approachable and available. I have seen Clay Stanley stay for over an hour after matches making sure that absolutely anyone in the crowd that wanted an autograph would get one. Meanwhile, NBA stars duck fans waiting outside the arena to get to the bus. The popularity and money ultimately breed a culture of ego and greed. There may be no cameras, flashing lights, or Will Ferrell player introductions in volleyball. There may be no front page headlines, sports center highlights or tmz articles about a volleyball player dating a celebrity. But I'm okay with that…because I think if volleyball was like that in America, I wouldn't have met the kind of people I call my best friends today. It may be a small, third-tier, culture sport but I'm glad that it is.

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Playing Overseas by Alisha Glass

by Brynn Murphy on February 8, 2012

Hello all!!  Playing volleyball overseas is definitely a blessing.  You get to play the sport you love and travel to new places.  However, sometimes, that travel is a little more of a burden than a blessing.  For example, yesterday we left Sopot, Poland at 4:30am, drove to the Gdansk airport for a 6:30 flight.  We flew the one hour it takes to get to Warsaw, which is a pretty big airport.  We then had to walk around and find a transfer desk in order to get our next two tickets for the rest of our trip.  We found one lady helping us, we have just about 18 people, so needless to say that took a little while.  We had time though; we had a three hour layover there.  Then we flew to the Moscow airport.  We had to stand in line for a transfer security check for about 30 minutes.  Time wasn't an issue here either because we had a nice five hour layover here.  We then left on our last flight to Azerbaijan.  We got in at 12:30am, only 17 hours later with the time change.  While trips like this can take its toll on the body, it will all be worth it in the long run.  Now that we're in Azerbaijan, we get to play against Nellie Spicer and Kim Glass, and also in this city are Heather Bown, Jennifer Tamas, and Tayyiba Haneef-Park.  It will be so great to see so many Americans in a foreign city.  It will make those 17 hours seem like a breeze.  Our match against Kim and Nellie is the second of this round for the quarter finals in Champions League.  We won the last match and a win against them would put us in the final four which would be an amazing accomplishment.  If we lose, we immediately play a golden set, to determine who advances.  Either way, it should be a fun night! Hopefully afterwards we'll have time for dinner and a chance to catch up with them.  This will be a long road trip for us because after this match we head straight to play a team for Polish league, and after that we head straight to playoff game.  We'll be gone a total of 8 days.  It's important to break up long trips into pieces in order to keep our focus on each match, one at a time.  It would be great to get back to Sopot with three wins under our belts.  Wish us luck!!

~Alisha

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2012! by Jordan Larson

by Brynn Murphy on January 30, 2012

Happy New Year!! This year is a big year for everyone involved in the Olympics!! Can't believe it's already here.  However, there are still many events that occurred in 2011 that I would like to tell you about.  First, is our trip to Zurich, Switzerland. This was my second trip to Switzerland this year as I went to Montreux earlier this summer with the National team and needless to say it was beautiful.  We were going to Zurich to play a champions league match against Volero Zurich.  We arrived a couple days before the match so we were able to walk around a bit.  It was nice to get out for a bit and of course grab a Starbucks. :)  The most important thing was the match and we were able to take care of business. We were able to beat them in 4 but they definitely put up a fight.

After we returned from Switzerland we took a trip to one of our sponsors to receive a gift.  Since my first season we have been sponsored by a fur company called Melita.  Melita is a well-known fur company all over Europe.  In Russia fur is a must have, but a lot of people cannot afford high end fur because it is too expensive so needless to say the girls on my team were thrilled.  My first season here I got a coat tailor made just for me.  It was made out of beaver and fox.  I also received a blanket made out of beaver.  One fur coat is enough for me so last season I chose wolf pelt and also another blanket made out of beaver.  This season I am considering the fox blanket in the picture below.  We are hoping to use all the blankets as throws in our house, if I ever have one!  Below you will see a picture of me and my teammate Gamova modeling some of the coats on display.

Before you know it Christmas was here!! This is always a tough time to be away from family.  For me I always remember the many traditions I have with my family.  This year we were fortunate enough to get to spend Christmas with the Priddy's.  For those of you who don't know who the Priddy's are, Reid Priddy is an outside hitter with the US National team and was a member of the 2008 gold medal Olympic team. He is playing for the Kazan men's team and has brought along some of his family including his wife Lindsey, son Caden and his sister Dylan.  Lindsey is a great host and made a wonderful Christmas Eve and Christmas day dinner.  We had a small gift exchange but the most enjoyment came from watching Caden open his gifts.  A special thank you to Reid and his family for making this Christmas memorable.

Christmas came and went and we were back to work.  Next up was the Russian cup.  The Russian cup is mid season tournament with the winning team qualifying for Champions league the following year.  We were fortunate enough to win the cup last season and we wanted to try and bring it back to Kazan. Our semi-final match was against Krasnodar a very good team that includes my friend and teammate Foluke Akinradewo.  We battled it out and there were some close sets but we came out on top.  We couldn't relax because the next day was going to be a tough match.  In the final we were to face Dinamo Moscow who is traditionally one of the best teams in the Russian SuperLeague.  They pushed us and we had no answer.  We took them to four but had a chance to win 2 other sets with game points in both.  We made critical mistakes at the wrong time and it cost us the match.  This was very disappointing for us and the club.  There is no time to dwell as we still have over half the season left.

After we finished the Russian cup it was time to celebrate the New Year.  For those of you that don't know New Years in Russia is like our Christmas in the States.  Everything shuts down and it's their time to celebrate with family and friends.  Lucky for me Foluke got to come to Kazan and celebrate with us.  We went over to the Priddy's for dinner and hung out and played ping pong till it was time to ring in the New Year.  We celebrated with champagne and sparklers (inside the apartment!). The next morning we returned to their apartment.  My husband’s family has a New Year ’s Day tradition of making a pastry they call grebble so we carried on that tradition in Russia.

 

After spending a couple of days with us it was time for Foluke to return to her team.  It was great getting to spend time with her.  After she left we had to travel to a team in northern Siberia near the Arctic Ocean.  They said normal temperatures reach as low as -50 Celsius.  Fortunately it wasn't that cold outside.  They did have some neat life sized ice sculptures outside their gym. 

Every year our team treats us to a day of snow tubing at a local ski resort.  We go tubing in the morning and then enjoy a nice lunch. Most girls bring their families as we get to swim and use the sauna at the resort.  It is a great time to relax and enjoy each other’s company. This has been an eventful couple of weeks.  I have truly enjoyed spending time with friends and celebrating the holidays.  I hope everyone has a wonderful 2012, this year should be exciting.

Dream Big & Never Settle

Jordan

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A New Year, A New Blog by Brian Thornton

by Brynn Murphy on January 16, 2012

It's a new year. 2012. The year in which the world will end according to what I hope is an unpopular social interpretation of the Mayan calendar. But John Cusack was the bomb in that flick yo…not to mention his other numerical masterpiece, 1408, naturally. Will he ever outdo himself in High Fidelity or Being John Malkovich? Minus a time traveling hot tub…I think not. Enough cinematic babel. It's a new year and this is a new blog. My first blog ever and I'm certain to take some heavy fire from a particular blogging friend of mine who I have constantly ridiculed for being just that: A Blogger. A self-published writer giving their views and opinions to the world with one simple and free click of a mouse. The whole thing seems very egocentric and narcissistic to me. But then again, my Grandma is on Facebook. It's 2012 after all….who hasn't been Zuckerberged? And surely I will advertise this blog feverishly, by any means necessary, in order to promote myself and my new monthly cyber paradox. What do I think about the upcoming match in The Polish cup quarterfinals? Check out the blog. What will I be doing for the holidays? I tweeted that five minutes ago. My favorite book? Clearly you have not checked out my Facebook page. The blog is the last of the three headed social network beast and I have officially acquired all three. In the words of sports psychologist Ken Ravizza…I'm happy to be here. I'm happy to find out what 2012 may offer. The possibility of standing on that podium at the Olympics in the summer is usually my second thought every morning when I wake up. It's tough to beat Eggs or cereal. Cereal usually emerges victorious in that mental morning battle. You know…the whole no dishwasher and gas stove and no time thing. You were probably wondering if i was ever actually going to steer away from the preceding pointless banter and into a volleyball topic…I did briefly and will (at least it wasn't abrupt or interrupted by a breakfast tangent). A realistic approach to the summer….we have our work cut out for us. A sixth place finish at the last two major international tournaments has left us with a bitter taste in our mouths and a first place finish at Norcecas in May in order to clinch an Olympic qualification is paramount. It won't be easy. Canada is better, as is Puerto Rico and when the Cubans put it all together they can be a force. They're probably the most physical team in the world. We've certainly had our struggles but I know everyone is looking forward to the challenge...looking forward to the possibilities of 2012…and of course hoping that John Cusack doesn't have to save us all come late December.

Until Next Time,

Brian Thornton

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Champions League by Ryan Millar

by Brynn Murphy on January 12, 2012

It has been a great December and beginning of January for my club team here in Russia.  Over the holiday season, we won for the second time in a row the coveted Russian Cup.  With this win, we automatically qualify for a spot in next seasons Champions League.  For a team that is playing in its first Champions League this season, the opportunity to play two years in a row is quite the accomplishment.  I want to congratulate all my teammates and coaching staff on playing so well and working so hard.  We had a nice Christmas dinner (you have to realize that Christmas in Russia is on the 7th of January, not the 25th of December) with the team and our team President.  He congratulated us on our success and is looking forward to future results.


I am currently in Innsbruck Austria gearing up for our next match in Champions League.  If we can pull out another victory here we will qualify for the playoff round of 12.  From that point on, it will be a draw of two teams.  You will play one time away and one time at home.  In the case of a 1 win and 1 lose split, the last match will include a one game to 15 Golden Set to determine who advances.  Hopefully we can continue our good team play and move on to the next round.  I am optimistic about our chances in this tournament.  I feel like we are playing at a very high level and that we can compete against anyone.  We have a good mix of experienced and talented players.

[Pic from Innsbruck, Austria]

I am really enjoying my time playing in Russia.  The level of volleyball is fantastic and I get to play with a great group of teammates.  What more could you ask for? 


Follow me on Twitter! @RyanMillarMizun

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Hello from Poland! by Alisha Glass

by Brynn Murphy on January 9, 2012

Hello from Poland friends!!!  I am currently playing professionally in Sopot, Poland.  I've just gotten settled in and I'm getting to know my coaches and teammates.  We have girls from all over, Megan Hodge from USA is on my team, two German players, a girl from Spain, and a girl from Turkey.  Our coaches are Italian and it's amazing how much English everyone knows.  I am trying to learn a little Polish to meet the girls halfway, but I can tell you it's a very complicated language.  We're in Champions League which means we play teams outside of Poland.  Jordan Larson's Russian team came here to play.  We lost, but she and her husband came out to dinner afterwards and we had a wonderful time. 

The city of Sopot is beautiful, our apartment complex is right near the sea, it's just a very short walk away.  They say it's even prettier in the summer.  Megan and I were told it was going to be very, very cold here and that it would snow a lot.  I'm sure it will, but it hasn't yet, which has been wonderful!! It meant we didn't have snow for Christmas, but considering it's one less month without snow, I'm pretty happy.  I Skyped my family for Christmas, it was wonderful.  It's amazing how technology can make people in different continents feel like they're in the same room. 

I wish everyone a belated Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!! You can keep up with me on twitter…@aglass6.  If anyone wants to know more about Poland or how the season is going, send a tweet or a direct message!!

-Alisha Glass

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Greetings from Kazan, Russia by Jordan Larson

by Brynn Murphy on January 4, 2012

Greetings from Kazan, Russia. I am currently playing on my professional team Dinamo-Kazan. Kazan is located about half way between Moscow and Siberia (See if you can find us on the map below). I have a lot to update everyone on...So here comes my book.

After getting that nice break at home, we all reported back to California to begin our next training block. This next tournament we were about to play in, the World Cup, was the first qualification for the Olympics. Little did I know that this was going to be one of the hardest tournaments I would every play in. The coaching staff kept reminding us that we would be playing 11 matches in 15 days. I was like okay this isn't much different from other tournaments like Grand Prix...but man was I wrong. The World Cup is by far the hardest both physically and mentally I have ever played in. We started out with two very difficult teams, Brazil & Serbia. We had just recently beat both of them at Grand Prix so we knew that they would both be difficult games. Leading up to these two matches I had a lot of anxiety as a player because we had been training for so long for this tournament and I didn't want to let my teammates down. I was trying to find the best way to both mentally and physically prepare myself while trying not to over think things at the same time and just go play. This is a constant battle for me, trying to prepare but not over think the game. I play my best when I am having fun with a game plan in mind. Thanks to a wonderful team effort we were fortunate to win both of these games.  I think the one thing that always calms me as a player is that I am not alone out there! I have 5/6 other people out there that always have my back. This is why I believe volleyball is the ultimate team sport and the relationships I build with all my teammates is why I love the game so much. We kept rolling after that and we beat the next two teams on our schedule, Korea and Kenya. We were on a high until the German team kept us grounded. We got swept in 3. They played a great match and we just couldn't respond. This did not affect our goal, but it did help us refocus to keep pushing through this tournament. We were sitting in second place most of the tournament right behind Italy who was undefeated. We didn't face Italy until the second to the last match. We had to win this game in order to guarantee us a spot in the Olympics. It was such a emotionally intense match. I love and truly enjoy playing in matches like this. There is a lot of pressure and I am nervous before it starts, but it is nice to be able to go to battle with such a great team. We ended up winning in 4 which guaranteed us a spot in the 2012 LONDON OLYMPICS!!!!! This has been a dream of mine and every time I think about it it gives me goosebumps.. To think that I have thought about this since I was 12 years old. I am one step closer to actually making the Olympics. Wow!! :) After beating Italy we were sitting in first place. We played Japan to win it all but we feel short. Japan always plays great at home in front of their fans and we just couldn't respond. Even though we didn't win we still got silver and qualified for the Olympics. It would have been nice to win but it was definitely a relief to qualify. At this point Italy, USA, China, and the host team are qualified for the Olympics.  The remaining 8 teams will be determined through additional tournaments.

 

After we finished the World cup.... It was time to say goodbye to all of my American teammates as we all go our separate ways and meet up again next year. It is hard to leave the girls since you spend so much time together and share in such great memories. In going our separate ways, some of us left straight from Japan and some of us got to go home for a couple of days. I was one of the lucky ones that was able to go home for a few days. We landed in LAX on the 19th of November and I flew back to Nebraska the same day. I got to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family and eat lots of turkey.  It was great to see so much of my family since it is rare that I am home. I got to spend the next four days with my husband and I left for Russia the day after Thanksgiving. Our flight to Russia usually takes us about a full day. After leaving Nebraska we had a layover in Chicago which allowed us to grab one last American meal and watch the Nebraska football game.  From here we traveled to Frankfurt, Germany and then on to Moscow.  After clearing customs in Moscow we had one more short flight to Kazan. Finally, after a long day we made it safely to our new apartment in Kazan. This is my third season with this team and I have been lucky in that every year I have upgraded to newer apartments. (pictures below)  The next day we went to the store with our team manager and translator Kirill. The first year we came here he was a translator who spoke very little English.  How does that work?!  He has come a long ways since that day and it has been nice to see how he has progressed.

We got settled and within a couple of days we had our first game. This game was different than the ones I have played in the past. Since we won the Russian league last year it qualified us for a different league this year. This league is called Champions League. It is a collection of teams from all over Europe who have also finished first or second in their league. This means instead of only playing one Russian Championship game a week we are also playing teams from all over Europe during the week. Our first champions league game was at home against a team from the Czech Republic. We won in 5 but it was not pretty. This team shouldn't have been competing with us. We were the better team but we were still working out the problems and getting used to playing together again.

 

We then had the next day off which was nice to be able to relax and get our apartment situated. It wasn't long and we were preparing to play again. We traveled to Moscow to play a team there and we won 4. It was a better performance on our part but we still needed to work some things out. We didn't have time to think about this game because the next day we were off to Gydansk, Poland. This is where two of my American teammates play, Alisha Glass and Megan Hodge. We arrived two nights before we played them and had a chance to go watch them play. It was great to see them but of course weird to see them with another team. I was able to say a quick hello to them after the game then it was back to the hotel to prepare for the match coming up. Their team's name is Atom Sopot. They are a very talented team not just because of Megan and Alisha but they also have two players from the German national team and a turkish outside hitter. It was for sure going to be a tough match and it was going to test our team. We ended up matching up against them nicely, played our best game thus far and beat them in 3. We will play them again in Kazan on the 11th of January. It will be interesting to see what they do differently and if we can play at the same level of consistency. After the game Luke and I were able to go out to dinner with Alisha and Megan. We joined them at a little Italian restaurant and shared in some good conversation and pizza. It was nice to have a little English speaking in our lives. If you would like to watch our champions league games just go to www.laola.tv1.com and they will have live streams of our games. We usually play on Wednesdays or Thursdays.

That is all for now... I will keep you updated on our eventful December as we travel to Switzerland and get to celebrate Christmas in Russia with American outside hitter Reid Priddy and his family. To all my family, friends, and teammates...know that I am thinking about you wherever you are in the World.  Happy Holidays! May you truly understand the reason for the season. Dream Big & Never Settle

Jordan

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Great Sadness Surrounded the End of a Remarkable Season

by Luke Donald on December 21, 2011

 

The loss of my father came at what was supposed to be a time of great joy for Diane and I. My dad died at the birth of our second daughter, so that produced a wide range of emotions. It was something you can never prepare for.

Dad was immensely proud of my achievements. The year 2011 has been a break-out year for me, an amazing year – a season that, as a golfer, you always aspire to. It was nice for everything I have worked for to come to fruition. Sometimes that hard work doesn’t always pay off but this year it did.

It all started with my win at the Accenture Matchplay. That gave me great confidence and then I was able to get to the top of the world with my win at Wentworth. Another great win in the Scottish Open showed that I was where I belonged and then the win in the Disney might just have been my most satisfying win – the manner in which I did it and what was on the line.

I’ve had so many positives this year and now a lot of awards are coming in at the end of the year: US and European Player of the Year and the Golf Writers award.

It’s hard to pinpoint when I moved up another level. I guess I just needed that one big win for proof. It was probably the Matchplay that opened the doors. Winning is very important because it breeds a lot of confidence. I could probably even go back to the previous year’s Madrid Masters. Just winning that smaller event was huge for my confidence.

To consolidate this, I have good people around me: my coach Pat Goss and also Dave Alred, my fitness coaches Ben Shear and Craig Knight and my caddie John McLaren. All of them are looking at ways for me to try and improve. And I have a very loving a supportive family. That’s all helped me get to the level I’ve achieved.

I don’t believe I’ve changed that much. It’s just been a case of constant improvement and trying to get everything a little sharper. But at the beginning of this year I certainly spent a lengthy time on the range before I began my season. I had six full weeks of good, hard work. In previous years I didn’t have as much time as that. I’d always started the year off earlier and that way it’s always hard to ingrain any improvement in your swing. That six weeks was very key.

I was able to really get the club, at the top of the backswing, in a neutral position. It wasn’t quite as shut. That has helped my driving, for sure. My accuracy on the US Tour went up and I led the driving accuracy stats in Europe. Everything starts with that. Get the ball on the fairway and it makes everything a little bit easier. I’ve always said the short-game is the key to scoring and I’ve maintained my strengths in that over the last year, but I’ve certainly improved my long game enough to where it’s shaved off a few strokes here and there. That is the difference between a decent year like I had in 2010 and a break-out year this year.

If you’re playing well, too, you can play well at any course. I think I showed that with some of the wins I had. The Matchplay was on one of the longest courses we play all year; Wentworth’s quite a narrow course; Castle Stuart is quite a wide-open course. But the key to winning both money-lists has been an amazing amount of consistency. I still think there is room for improvement but all parts of my game are reasonably consistent.

I’m looking for an even better year next. There are certain things in my career I haven’t achieved yet – winning a major, obviously. In the modern game pros are judged on how they do in the majors and how many they’ve won. Jack, Tiger, Nick Faldo, Seve...they were able to win multiple majors. At the same time, though, what I’ve proved this year is that I was able to pick up awards without winning a major. The golf writers’ award, from the people that really know golf, told me a lot. It said, well you didn’t win a major but you still played the best of anyone this year.

I’ve got the prospect of a new start clubs-wise next year. For the last couple of months I’ve been given some MP-69s and 59s to try. I did a Master Class shoot for Mizuno and I used the 59s during that shoot. They felt quite nice. I’m going to take a few weeks off without playing any golf and then when I pick up the clubs again next year there’s a good chance I’ll put the 59s in play. I’ll be starting my year in Abu Dhabi, have a couple of weeks off and then start again in L.A.

Next year’s Ryder Cup will be another matter to concentrate on soon enough. There’s talk of me reporting back to Ollie about the course for a start. I live only 30 minutes away from the Ryder Cup course, Medinah. I’ve played it quite a few times but they have just re-designed it and I haven’t played the new design. I will be going there a few times over the summer and maybe that will help Ollie with his captaincy. Obviously I’ve got to make sure I’m on the team. If I keep playing the way I am playing, it shouldn’t be a problem.

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Author Luke Donald

An English native, Luke Donald is one of the world's top golfers. In addition to his top-10 world ranking, Luke has numerous wins on the PGA and European Tours, and played a key role as a member of the victorious European Ryder Cup teams in 2004, 2006, and 2010.

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World Cup by Ryan Millar

by Brynn Murphy on December 21, 2011

The World Cup is over and now it is back to our professional teams. Some guys actually flying from Japan to their respective clubs. The tournament did not go as we all would have liked unfortunately. We ended up losing some costly matches early in the tournament against Brazil, Russia, and Italy. Those losses pretty much sealed our fate of not being able to qualify for the Olympics there. The tournament was long and grueling as expected. Each day becoming more difficult than the next. We ended the tournament with a few wins against some good teams like Argentina and Cuba. So what is next in the qualification process for us? We will play in our zone qualifier in May in Puerto Rico.  The teams that we will compete against are Puerto Rico, Canada, Cuba, Mexico, The Dominican Republic, etc... We must WIN this tournament to qualify. It is obviously very important for us to do so.

Back to our professional teams, means back to the grind and rigors of playing overseas.  The long practices and lots of travel, especially for the many guys participating in this year’s European Cups.  I am currently in Istanbul Turkey. We played against the Turkish Champion Fenerbache here and came out victorious 3-0. We now are going directly to our next Russian League match in Surgut Russia. They are in the same region of the standings as we are so it will be important for us to come out with a win.

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Brett Gardner Supports Bronx Schools

by Mizuno USA on November 16, 2011

MLB.com shared an inspiring story about Brett Gardner and his efforts to renovate school in the Bronx school system. Read the full story on MLB.com.

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My 4th World Cup by Ryan Millar

by Brynn Murphy on November 8, 2011

This month has been about gearing up and getting ready to begin the qualification process for the upcoming Olympic Games.  That will begin on November 20th in Japan at the World Cup.  The top 3 teams out of the 12 participating will qualify.  Personally this will be my 4th World Cup with Team USA, the previous 3 we have finished in 4th place.  We have finished one spot away from qualifying each time.  I am definitely looking forward to breaking that streak this time.  We had our first practice today and it was great to get back into the gym after being in Russia.  We tried to work out the kinks of long travel and recently played matches with all the many club teams we are playing for.  We are trying to get everyone on the same page so we can hit the ground running when we arrive in Japan.  The qualification process is not easy by any means.  Like I already stated, trying to qualify at the World Cup is tough enough.  If that doesn’t happen, you must win your zone qualifier which will be held in May.  If you do not win your zone qualifier, you are put into random pools of the remaining teams trying to qualify and you must win that to qualify.  We have three chances to get to London.  I look forward to making that process as short as possible.  Wish us luck!  Go Team USA

Ryan

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