Men's Volleyball Q&A: USA National Team Players

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Three current members of the Pepperdine men's volleyball team played with USA National Teams at international competitions in late summer. Junior setter Soren Dion-Kindem and sophomore outside hitter Colby Harriman competed for the U.S. Junior National Team at the FIVB U21 World Championships in Mexico in September (the U.S. took 11th place). And, freshman Michael Wexter played with the USA Boys' Youth National Team at the FIVB U19 Boys' World Championship in Argentina in August (the U.S. finished in seventh place). We asked all three of them about playing for college and country:

Q: What is it like to represent the USA?

Dion-Kindem: Representing the USA while playing is quite the feeling. Whenever I step out on the court and they raise the USA flag and play the National Anthem, an overwhelming sense of pride runs through me, one that can't be recreated. It's an honor and a privilege to wear USA on your chest and it demands the utmost respect. 

Harriman: There's no better feeling than representing your country while playing the sport you love. Every time I put on the USA jersey and hear the anthem playing before matches I get goose bumps. It never gets old.

Wexter: It's pretty crazy to represent the U.S. for any sport, I think. The level of play is so high and everyone is so good from every country it's kind of crazy.

Q: How does the level of competition compare to that of Pepperdine (or high school)?

Dion-Kindem: The level of competition at the U21 World Championships was the overall highest I have ever played against. Most players in the tournament have either been playing professionally already or have the opportunity in their near future, but Pepperdine has always produced the same caliber of players as well. Training in our gym provides an opportunity to train against the best in the country every day. 

Harriman: At Worlds, most of the guys from other countries are already professional athletes -- highly paid professional athletes in many cases. Despite this fact, we won some great matches and were very close to winning others. We never really got blown out. I feel that Soren and I were really well prepared for the tournament because we've been playing together in the USA pipeline for many years with some great coaches, but also because Marv Dunphy has the international experience and conveys the necessary knowledge to us.

Wexter: High school vs. USA is no comparison. Everyone on the U.S. team is at such a high level of play that everything is kind of expected to be done right, whereas in high school I was the only player on my team that even went D-1 and the competition of other teams too was a lot lower.

Q: What was the most difficult part of adjusting to a new team?

Dion-Kindem: The most difficult part of adjusting to a new team would have to be chemistry and experience. Though all of us on the junior team were good friends, we don't play together year-round so higher levels of communication and adaptability to adversity is a necessity, which isn't always the easiest task. 

Harriman: Socially, it was not difficult adjusting to the team. What's great about the volleyball community is that it's very small and everyone knows everyone. However, we don't play together every day so it's a little tough getting used to everyone's tendencies. A huge part of volleyball is not only anticipating what the other team will do but also what your teammates will do. Luckily, Soren and I know each other really well and can count on one another.

Wexter: The most difficult part of playing with a new team was just getting used to the sets of the new setter. We ran a little bit of a faster system than I was used to, and the sets came at a completely different tempo that was difficult to get used to.

Q: What is your most memorable on-court moment this summer?

Dion-Kindem: My most memorable on-court moment was playing in front of a packed house against the host country Mexico, on Mexican Independence Day. Needless to say the energy in the venue was insane, but gave our team so much energy and made the experience so fun. The atmosphere was something I will never forget. 

Harriman: Playing Russia, the best team in the world at this age group, is always a fun experience. All of their players are in the Russian Super League: Zenit Kazan, Dynamo Moscow, and other clubs that dominate Europe. Whenever we get an opportunity to play them, it's an awesome environment and getting a stuff-block or a huge kill against them is a highlight.

Wexter: Stuff blocking the Turkey outside in the fifth set with the score at 15-all.

Q: What is your favorite off-court moment this summer? 

Dion-Kindem: My favorite off-the-court moment in Mexico was simply playing cards and hanging out with all the guys during our breaks throughout the day. Like I said earlier, we all got along great and I left knowing I had made 10 new amazing friendships.

Harriman: Because we were in Tijuana and Mexicali, Mexico, we weren't allowed to do too much outside of our hotel for safety reasons. We had to get a police escort whenever we left the hotel as a team. Regardless, we still had plenty of fun outside of the gym. For me, I really enjoyed interacting with the fans. Signing autographs, taking pictures, and just talking with Mexican volleyball fans was really cool. They are really passionate about the sport and they treated us like celebrities.

Wexter: Hanging with all of the guys on the team in the Argentina Wal-Mart. It was so much different than ours and everyone on the team was kind of lost inside of the store together.

Q: How has this experience impacted your volleyball career, particularly back at Pepperdine?

Dion-Kindem: My experience in Mexico has impacted my volleyball career because I've experienced playing the highest level of volleyball in the world for my age group. Not only will I take back information I learned from my coaches, but I have also taken back information that I learned from watching the best teams play: the systems they run, the techniques they use. There is so much valuable information at tournaments like those that we can bring back to Pepperdine to make our team even better. 

Harriman: Volleyball is probably more mental than it is physical and playing at the highest level in the world for this age group really tests you in both of those aspects. Coming out of this tournament, we are much tougher mentally than we were at the start of the summer. We now know what it takes to win at the highest level and that is going to translate into this upcoming season.

Wexter: This experience taught me a lot about volleyball, and made me a better all-around player. It was the first time since I had been playing that I really couldn't rely completely on my athleticism, and had to really work on my volleyball skills and IQ.

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