Zionsville Olympian on heading to Tokyo and beyond
We’re proud to feature on this month’s cover Matt Anderson, Zionsville resident and three-time US men’s volleyball Olympian. Anderson, an opposite / away hitter, made his third Olympic Games appearance in Tokyo, Japan last month.
The United States men fell to Argentina on Sunday, August 1, 2021 in the quarterfinals of the Tokyo Olympics, finishing 2-3. Obviously, this is not the finish the team worked for, but nonetheless, their nation and their supporters are immensely proud of their accomplishments, their dedication to the sport and to represent the United States so honorably.
We spoke with Anderson about his career and what it takes, in his own words, to get to the Olympics, not once but thrice.
The path to becoming an Olympian
Anderson was born in Buffalo, New York, and raised in West Seneca. He graduated from West Seneca High School in 2005 and attended Pennsylvania State University.
Anderson left college after his freshman year to play professionally with the Hyundai Capital Skywalkers in Korea. He also played professionally in Russia and Italy. At 25, Anderson was the youngest player on the United States Men’s Olympic Volleyball team in 2021.
“I played a lot of sports growing up,” said Anderson. “When a family friend suggested that I try volleyball it was something I really liked, so I kept playing. I was told I was good, but if I wanted to improve I would have to start playing travel [volleyball]. My parents raised some money, and I started playing travel and got a little better in high school. Then I tried other high performance American stuff and also did a one year training camp. When I made the national youth team, I started getting recruited by colleges.
Asked about his decision to leave Penn State to go pro, Anderson replied, “I realized that professionals [volleyball] was the next step for me, and if I wanted to potentially become an Olympian, playing pro was what I had to do. So I made this decision after discussing with my varsity coach and my family what it would take. Could I handle being away from my family in another country for eight months, and did I understand what it really means to be a professional athlete? It turned out not, but I quickly learned.
Anderson was only 21 when he started his professional volleyball career.
“The doors kept opening, and I kept going through them,” Anderson reflected. “It was wild and fun and really hard work, but the joy I got from it was incredible.”
The life of a professional athlete abroad
After playing in South Korea and Italy, Anderson went to Russia to play professional volleyball for seven years. He reflected on what it was like to be a young American athlete in Russia.
“At first it was really tough,” Anderson said. “I think the Russians – in general – are a bit closed, culturally. My teammates have a lot more international experience, so they’re not that closed, but getting accepted into the squad was difficult at first. One of the things I’m proud of the way I behave as an athlete is my work ethic. I just put my head down and worked hard. It took them about a year and a half to welcome me with open arms and not have this skepticism about me. I have grown a lot in those seven years, both as an individual and as a player. The guys I played with were there for this part of my trip, and some will be lifelong friends.
Realize the dream of playing the Olympic Games
Anderson graciously shared some of his thoughts on the three Olympic experiences and how he has evolved over the years as an athlete and as a young man at the peak of his career.
“My first appearance at the Olympics was in 2012,” said Anderson. “I was the youngest on the team there in London, and I was a starter. It was an amazing experience, and I was really happy to be there and excited to compete. The second [Olympic appearance] was in Rio.
When asked how this experience was different from his experience in London, Anderson said: “A lot of different. The team was made up of a lot of different players, a lot younger. I went from being a youngster to being a bit more veteran and more experienced player. I was 29, which is a very good age for athletes in our profession. You still have a lot of youth in your body, but you have more experience. We played against Russia for bronze.
Anderson continued, “In the end it was a great experience. We came away with a medal, which a lot of people cannot say as Olympians. We were very grateful for the experience.
Playing in the middle of a pandemic
In his previous Olympic appearances, Anderson had the support of his family, in person. This year’s Olympics did not allow fans and their families to attend. To add to this disappointment, Anderson got married and had a son since his last Olympic run, and it was difficult for him to be separated from them.
“The hardest thing for me was just the distance and knowing that I wasn’t going to see them all this time,” Anderson said. “FaceTime is great, but the physical contact and being in the same room is huge for me and my family. It was bad, clear and simple. But for the sporting and competitive part, I didn’t necessarily have a bad experience without fans – I was able to keep a cool head and be calm throughout, but it didn’t have the full feel of the Olympics without fans and because of all the restrictions. But again, I’m just grateful for the experience.
Anderson shared his disappointment at not having fully achieved their goals in Tokyo, but stressed that he was not yet finished.
“I can rest easy knowing I have no regrets in training,” said Anderson. “Now the execution and how it all turned out is going to be a tough pill to swallow. Our team, when we’re all healthy, is a really tough team to stop. I am really sad that the result was not what we wanted, but I am grateful for the whole trip and will try again.
Rooted in Zionsville, Indiana
Anderson’s wife, Jacquelyn (Jackie), grew up in Indianapolis, and when the couple decided it was time to find a property and settle their property “forever,” the couple found six acres of which they immediately fell in love located in Zionsville and got married on the property.
“We came across this house [and property], and I was like, ‘We don’t have to look any further.’ it was really great [living here], and downtown is a great place. It reminds me a lot of my hometown in New York.
Anderson joked, “I’m still a die-hard Buffalo Bills fan and still hold a season pass.”
triple Olympian (2012, 2016, 2020); single Olympic medalist (1 bronze)
Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, 10th
Rio 2016 Olympic Games, bronze
London 2012 Olympic Games, 5th
World Championship Experience
Most recent: 2018 – bronze
Years of participation: 2010, 2014, 2018
Medals: 1 (1 bronze)
Bronze – 2018