July 17, 2013
To help the U.S. women’s national volleyball team move forward, Christa Harmotto often finds herself looking back.
The Hopewell and Penn State graduate is in the midst of her second four years with the team after winning silver at the 2012 Olympics. Once one of the younger members, she’s now a veteran in a group infused with new blood.
“I’ve been in some leadership roles in the past in high school and college,” she said. “I’ve been reaching back to some of those and remembering what it looks like to be in that role. There are different challenges and responsibilities.”
There’s a clear division between her two stints. Harmotto has switched her focus from herself to helping her younger teammates learn and develop. It’s been refreshing, and it’s helped her enjoy the process more.
It’s also been a challenge, a constant reminder that she’s more than just a volleyball player. She said athletes never stop learning. This has been her latest lesson.
“It’s how many kids you can affect on and off the court,” she said. “Just constantly being engaged in what some of the new players are bringing to the table and if they need help. It’s been a mental shift to a more collective atmosphere. I just really enjoy learning and then teaching them.”
While she’s been happy to take the focus off herself and embrace the rejuvenated energy provided by the next generation, Harmotto also has plenty to focus on personally. She’s still recovering from a February surgery that repaired a torn labrum in her shoulder.
The team is prepping for the World Grand Prix, which takes place over five weeks in August. The U.S. will spend a week in Brazil and Serbia and then three weeks in Japan. Twelve or 14 players will be selected to participate within the next couple of weeks. Harmotto is hoping to be one of them, but that depends on how well her recovery goes.
She’s dealt with knee injuries before, but her shoulder has provided a new set of obstacles.
“It’s very mental,” she said. “Since it’s a non-weight bearing limb, you try to control a little bit more.”
Along with the challenge of adjusting to a new role and recovering from her injury, Harmotto has also been learning a different system. Former men’s Olympian Karch Kiraly took over as the U.S. team’s head coach this season, and he brought his own style with him. The system hasn’t changed drastically. For the most part, it’s just running a faster offense. But Kiraly has also preached selflessness, a lesson Harmotto and her teammates have embraced.
“He’s instilled that in the attitude of the team,” Harmotto said. “He’s very team-oriented. Every day you’re competing. It’s kind of like a tryout in a sense, and we’re only as good as our weakest link.
“He’s constantly looking to build people up and he’s created an environment where we can learn and take risks. It’s so much fun to be apart of.”