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Priddy's prayer is answered in a 'far greater' way as he leads USA men to volleyball bronze

RIO DE JANEIRO — Two years ago, four-time Olympian Reid Priddy sat in church, the ligaments in his knee shredded and his volleyball career in doubt.

“I don’t do this a lot, but I had this burst of faith,” he said after leading the U.S. men’s volleyball team to a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Russia (23-25, 21-25, 25-19, 25-19, 15-13) for a bronze medal. “I was like, ‘OK, God, you could heal me. It was a very visible, public injury, and so if you miraculously heal me, then that would be pretty cool for you … and great for me.’ It was one of those times, it’s happened maybe two times in my life, where like an inaudible-audible voice said, ‘What I’m going to do is far greater.’”

The man who provided the spark that Team USA needed to rally from a two-set deficit, fell silent, as he choked back tears. Priddy, a Christian, looked down at his feet, where the word “Far” was written on the left toe and “Greater” was etched on the right.

“Before this match even started,” he said, “the concept of ‘far greater’ was already answered in terms of the experiences, the relationships and the growth that’s happened internally. It’s been really special.”

Adding a bronze to the gold he helped Team USA win in 2008 is just “icing on the cake.”

Priddy came in with the U.S. trailing 21-17 in the first set. BYU alum Taylor Sander teamed up with Max Holt for a big block and then Priddy earned the first of his 17 kills on the next play.

The veteran helped the youngest team in the Olympic semifinals rally, but it fell short in the first two sets. In the second set, Sander struggled and went to the bench for about eight points. When he returned, he played with much more precision and ferocity than before the change.

“We’re a tough team,” Sander said. “It was a hard match. Emotionally we were drained after Italy. It was hard to get going for this match. We had no energy in those first two sets.”

Sander struggled against the massive Russian frontline, but after spending a few minutes on the sideline of the second set, he came back stronger, smarter and had some match-saving pick-ups in the fourth and fifth set.

"He adjusted his attack pattern," said U.S. coach John Speraw. "I was proud of him, to see how he adapted."

Sander finished with 14 kills and two aces, while Matt Anderson led team USA with 18 kills and two blocks. For the first time in this tournament, Anderson didn’t deliver the fastest serve — Priddy did.

Sander said Priddy kept them focused and fired up as they rallied back from a 0-2 start, just like they did when they started the tournament 0-2. “It’s amazing to have him on our team,” Sander said. “The things he was saying out there were perfect. He had a lot of energy, and he brought it. It was cool to be a part of it. … I grew up watching Reid, and I wanted to be like him. And I got to play a bronze medal match and win a bronze medal with him on the court. It’s pretty cool. He just brought that little spark that we needed, that extra effort play and it was awesome to be a part of it.”

Speraw said deciding when — or if — to make a substitution is a delicate balance between what may spark the team and what might affect the team’s chemistry and how changes impact individual players’ self esteem.

“I haven’t done it much,” he said of replacing his starters. “Last year at the World Cup, I didn’t do it at all. … Today it was just about having a pretty good idea that it was going to be tough for all our guys to go out there and play at the same emotional level they’ve been playing at. I really felt like in this tournament, we willed ourselves to a bunch of wins. I don’t know that we were a better volleyball team than some of the teams we beat. But we just competed, we were great teammates, and we had the will to keep fighting.”

Team captain David Lee wasn’t so sure he and his young teammates, a group that includes eight first-time Olympians, could actually pull off one more comeback in these Summer Games.

“I really can’t describe it,” said Lee, owner of a volleyball gold from Beijing in 2008. “I felt like we were out, honestly. A lot of our guys were down, they weren’t really looking that fired up to play. It’s an early morning, tough to get going, and a few plays here and there … that’s all we needed. We just kept fighting. I’m speechless.” Both Sander and Priddy struggled to find words to describe their feelings as well.

“I’m going to the locker room and take a deep breath and just enjoy it,” Sander said smiling, and acknowledging the support from family and friends in Rio and at home helped him have faith in himself after the heartbreak of losing in the semifinals to Italy. “It hasn’t hit me yet, But it’s amazing. This experience has been really hard, and it means a lot to me for sure.”

Priddy said he got through his injury, the long recovery and the tournament in which he rarely played in games by working hard and remaining focused on whatever was right in front of him.

“I just tried to stay present, focused, ready,” the 38-year-old father of two said. “I just always tried to stay ready for when the team needed some fresh legs, a spark. … I tried to make sure I was mentally and physically read for that.” So when the call came, Priddy was prepared to answer. “I’m just so thankful for this opportunity,” he said, adding that it was especially rewarding that his family, who’d supported him through the long road to recovery, could see him play in such a memorable match. “When the chips were down, this team really rose up.”

Email: adonaldson@deseretnews.com

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