Rare are the moments when collegiate players get the opportunity to meet a legend of their sport. Volleyball experienced that moment Oct. 14 when three-time Olympic gold medalist Misty May-Treanor visited the team’s locker room before its match against George Washington prior to giving a skills demonstration.
It was a day that had been circled on the calendar since the summer and heavily advertised in the past few weeks. For the players, it was a chance to meet an idol.
“It was really exciting for a lot of us,” said junior outside hitter Gina Tuzzolo. “We heard about Misty May so much, especially when a lot of us were starting to play volleyball. You hear a name and you never think you would get to meet someone that famous and has had so much success.”
Senior opposite hitter Julia Adler said she’s been a fan of May-Treanor for years.
“It’s crazy for me,” Adler said. “To hear her insights on being a player at the best stage, the Olympics, and to know she was at our level once was so cool.”
May-Treanor — who retired from competing following her third gold medal in the 2012 London Olympics — jumped at the chance to speak to the VCU team and the Richmond community.
“I never turn down an opportunity if a university asks me to come,” May-Treanor said. “I’m here for the love of volleyball. If people have a passion for volleyball and want to bring me in, then why not? I am so passionate about [this sport]. Volleyball is growing tremendously and it’s fun to see the levels on the Midwest and the East Coast growing and changing the power balance of the NCAA.”
Sunday’s match also fulfilled a promise May-Treanor made years earlier. Her college roommate’s daughter earned a volleyball scholarship and May-Treanor promised her friend’s daughter that she would see her play collegiately at least once. That finally happened Sunday. Ironically, the player she had promised to see was Jaimeson Lee, a setter for George Washington.
“I always told you I’d come see you play,” May-Treanor said during a halftime speech to the crowd, her voice cracking with emotion as Lee came onto the court to give her a hug. “But I’m sorry Jaimeson, I have to say, ‘Go Rams.’ Today, it’s all about VCU.”
Prior to the match, in addition to addressing the volleyball team, May-Treanor spent an hour greeting fans in the Tommy J. West Club of the Siegel Center. She brought her gold medal from the 2012 London Olympics, signed autographs and took pictures with the group of more than 100 fans who waited to get a moment with her.
“It’s great so many people turned out here today,” said Stuart C. Siegel, a VCU donor and the arena’s namesake, who was also in attendance. “Originally we were told by her agent that she wasn’t going to sign autographs or bring her gold medal, and of course she’s doing both. It’s such a marketing opportunity and community event for her to be here.”
After the match, May-Treanor participated in a brief Q&A session with the crowd before giving a mini-skills clinic. Later, she pulled out her gold medal again and took a photo with the team at center court, allowing the players to touch and wear it.
“I look up to her, so it’s unreal that I get to see her,” said junior middle blocker Jasmin Sneed. “All her words of encouragement and all her advice are really sitting in with me. I’m just soaking everything about this moment in.”