Former U.S. Men’s National Volleyball Team setter Lloy Ball, a four-time Olympian and 2008 Olympic gold medalist, has announced that he is stepping away from his playing career when his current season in Russia is finished.
“I will take a year off to reconnect with family and friends,” Ball (Woodburn, Ind.) said via e-mail of the year following his departure from Russia. “I will also take this time to reflect on what path my life will take next.”
Ball, 39, listed several reasons for his wanting to step away from the court, at least as a player.
“One is health; this year I have had many more aches and pains than in years past,” he said. “Plus, recently I have had a knee injury that will require surgery after this season.”
Ball is currently playing for the Russian club team Zenit Kazan, which is in the finals of the Super League playoffs. It is his fifth year playing for the city of Kazan, which he has led to three Russian Super League titles.
While Ball has had a great deal of success with overseas club teams, it usually separates him from his wife, Sarah, and their children, Dyer and Mya, who live in Angola, Ind., when they cannot be with Ball overseas.
“It has become more difficult to balance family and this career,” he said.
Ball grew up playing volleyball and basketball in Indiana, despite the fact that Indiana does not have high school boys’ volleyball. His father, Arnie Ball, the men’s volleyball head coach at IPFW, helped Lloy by coaching him on club teams during Indiana summers.
Lloy Ball was famously recruited to play basketball at Indiana by legendary coach Bobby Knight during his senior year of high school, but turned down the Hoosiers to play volleyball for his father at IPFW from 1991-94, helping the team to three NCAA Men’s Volleyball Championship semifinal rounds in four years.
In 1987, a 15-year-old Ball became the youngest player to compete at the U.S. Olympic Festival. In 1988, he became the youngest player ever to compete with the U.S. Men’s National Team when Scott Fortune went down with a sprained ankle and U.S. Head Coach Bill Neville asked Ball to go with the team to Japan.
Ball competed in his first Olympic Games in 1996 in Atlanta, where the U.S. Men finished ninth. In 2000, the U.S. Men placed 11th in Sydney and in 2004 in Athens he helped them to a fourth-place finish.
“A big part of being a good volleyball player is decision making; Lloy is an exceptional decision maker,” said USA Volleyball CEO Doug Beal, who coached Ball for the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games. “He can handle the ball, he has a good arm and he’s a good server. He can help you in a lot of ways.”
Following the Athens Games, Ball retired from the U.S. Men’s Team, but continued to play volleyball overseas, first for Iraklis in Greece and then for the city of Kazan in Russia.
During the winter of 2006-07, then-U.S. Men’s Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon visited Ball in Russia and convinced him to return to the team for one more Olympic Games.
“He makes great choices and I think he is a great student of the game,” McCutcheon said of Ball. “He is able to tactically exploit his opponent’s weaknesses and play to his team’s strengths.”
Ball rejoined the team for the 2007 Americas Cup, where it won gold, and then helped it to a victory at the 2007 NORCECA Continental Championship in Anaheim, Calif.
With Ball as the starting setter, the U.S. Men finished fourth at the 2007 FIVB World Cup, just missing an Olympic berth. The team did qualify by winning the 2008 NORCECA Olympic qualifier in Puerto Rico.
Ball was named the Most Valuable Player and Best Setter of the 2008 FIVB World League Final Round as the U.S. Men won their first World League title ever. That set the stage for the team’s success in Beijing, where it won eight straight matches to take the gold. Ball started seven of the eight matches and was credited with 208 running sets and one fault for an average of 6.3 running sets per set. He also scored 24 points on 11 kills, 11 blocks and two aces.
“He was great,” McCutcheon said. “I look at his performance in the year and a half he was with us. There were so many great matches where he got the job done. I cherish the working relationship he and I had.”
Ball lists his three favorite memories of playing with the U.S. Men’s Team as 1) Winning a bronze medal at the 1994 World Champ. 2) Walking in at the open ceremonies at the 1996 Olympics. 3) Winning the Gold in 2008.
When asked what advice he would give to players on a boys’ high performance team, Ball responded, “Work every day like someone else is trying to take your position; because THERE IS!!!!”