Saturday, August 15, 2015

Spiking for the USA

Olympic volleyball medalist Megan Easy enjoys peace of summer home on the Cape

By Matt Goisman
August 8, 2015

U.S. Olympic volleyball star Megan Hodge Easy relaxes with her husband, former NFL player Omar Easy, and their nine-month-old son Easton at their summer home in East Falmouth. Megan won a silver medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games and is a 2016 Olympics hopeful. STEVE HAINES/CAPE COD TIMES

EAST FALMOUTH - When you’re an Olympic indoor volleyball player like Megan Easy, you travel. A lot. The Fédération Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB) World Grand Prix alone took her to Turkey, Russia, Hong Kong and finally Omaha, Nebraska, for the final round, in which the U.S. won gold for the fourth time since Easy joined the team.
Next up for the U.S. is the FIVB World Cup in Japan starting August 22. Easy left last week for two weeks of training with USA Volleyball in Anaheim, California, and then heads to Japan for the 2016 Olympic Games qualifier.
Between competitions, Easy is happy to relax with her husband Omar Easy and 9-month-old baby Easton in their summer home at The Golf Club of Cape Cod.
“It’s where we come to just kind of take our minds off of everything and enjoy it,” Megan said. “That’s kind of what this home, what this area, symbolizes for us, is peace and quiet and time away from everything and everyone. It’s just a beautiful place.”
Omar and Megan bought their home, the backyard of which overlooks the 10th hole, in April 2013, two months before they were married. Megan, 26, was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands and grew up in Durham, North Carolina, before accepting a volleyball scholarship to Pennsylvania State University. So her familiarity with the Cape was limited prior to purchasing the property.
Omar, however, has been coming to the Cape for decades. His guidance counselor at Everett High School, Richard Aliberti, owned a summer home in Cotuit, and Omar would often visit Aliberti.
The two remain friends to this day. Aliberti introduced Omar to golf - Omar won The Golf Club of Cape Cod - championship in 2014 and volunteers with Aliberti’s youth golf program in Hyannis - which in turn helped bring Omar and Megan together.
Omar, 37, was a star football player during his two years at Everett, then went on to play for Penn State until he was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2002, the start of a four-year NFL career. Omar later returned to Penn State to earn a Ph.D. in education administration and work for the Nittany Lions, and one of his hobbies in State College was playing golf with women’s volleyball coach Russ Rose.
Megan Hodge (her maiden name) played for Penn State from 2006 to 2009, tallying a kill on the final point of the 2009 national championship against Texas, her last collegiate match. The win, PSU’s third national title in as many years, stretched the Nittany Lions’ winning streak to 102 matches, and the team went on to win the first seven matches of the 2010 season before finally losing.
Rose, Omar said, would often talk about Megan when they golfed together. Rose would then often talk to Megan about Omar.
“I actually knew that I was going to marry her after the first date we went on,” Omar said. “We sat in the car and talked for about three or four hours until the battery on my car died and I had to get roadside assistance to come get us started again.”
The two shared a Caribbean heritage, Megan’s parents coming from St. Thomas on the Virgin Islands, and Omar’s coming from Jamaica. Omar had also gone from being a big high school recruit to a Division I athlete to a professional football player, the same career trajectory Megan was pursuing in volleyball.
Megan’s numerous collegiate honors included twice being named NCAA Championship Most Outstanding Player, twice winning Big Ten Player of the Year and four straight years making the All-Big Ten First Team. She was considered the top volleyball player in the country as a high school senior, and despite offers from numerous Division I teams, she chose Penn State -- a program whose only national title before her arrival came in 1999, but has since she graduated won it all in 2010, 2013 and 2014.
Megan said she appreciated being told she’d have to earn her playing time despite her high profile.
“I just wanted go somewhere that I could get a good education and have a good focus on volleyball,” Megan said of Penn State. “I think, especially coming out of high school, a lot of recruits kind of want to be pampered and treated like a princess, and that wasn’t really for me.”
Despite its popularity at the collegiate level and the Olympics - Megan was on the 2012 U.S. team that won silver at the London Games - volleyball has never quite caught on as a spectator sport in the U.S. The Association of Volleyball Professionals, the premier beach volleyball league, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1998 but survived. Attempts at pro indoor leagues have been short-lived at best.
Instead, Megan’s made a career out of playing club volleyball all over the world. Her career includes stints in Puerto Rico, Azerbaijan, Poland, Italy and China.
As a national player she’s been to Macau, Peru, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Brazil, among others.
“It doesn’t ever get old, the travel,” Megan said. “I’ve never actually taken a count, but I’m sure at least 20 (countries).”
Megan is hoping to make a return to Brazil next year for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. The U.S. can qualify by placing in the top two in the World Cup, a tournament in which she helped the U.S. win silver in 2011.
The Americans currently rank first in the FIVB standings, one spot above the Brazilians. While no roster spot on the Olympic team is assured until it is selected next year by USA Volleyball, Megan is easily a front-runner to make the 2016 Olympic team.
“Brazil is the team that’s stopped us from getting a gold medal for the last two Olympics,” Megan said. “Volleyball is one of the biggest sports in Brazil, so I’m sure it’ll be packed every night.”
The U.S. beat Brazil 3-0 at the Grand Prix. The Americans went 13-1 overall in three group stages and the finals, won all five finals matches and dropped just two sets.
Megan, named MVP and Best Scorer at the 2012 Grand Prix, said she was happy with the result but knows the team will have to reach another level at the World Cup, where teams will substitute less and rely more on their starters.
Omar now works as a vice principal at Everett, but he’s been on a year-long leave since the start of July. He said it’s given him a chance to both follow Megan around the world and spend extended time with his son.
“This is probably the most travel I’ve ever done during the USA Volleyball period,” Omar said. “Obviously, with this little guy (Easton), things change.”
Competing at the national level, no matter the sport, requires tremendous time and energy. Megan said it can feel overwhelming at times, trying to balance all the different roles she’s taken on in the last two years.
But when she needs a rest, she can always come back to the Cape.
Megan said, “Being a professional athlete is a challenge in itself. Being a wife is a challenge. Being a mom is a challenge. So combining all of those definitely is a juggling act, but I don’t think I could be happier. … When I’m old and gray, I can look back on and be like, ‘This was a really cool time in my life, where I was doing everything that i wanted to do and had a great support structure around me.’”

No comments: