An ordinary man with an extraordinary goal, BYU’s volleyball extraordinaire Taylor Sander constantly exceeds expectations and proves he’s skilled beyond his years as he races to reach his Olympic dream.
One of the junior’s favorite players to watch growing up was outside hitter Reid Priddy, a member of three Olympic volleyball teams. Priddy brightened the life of Sander’s 12-year-old self when he autographed a ball for him. Last summer, Sander trained with the U.S. World League team, where he and Priddy shared the same court.
The 20-year-old Sander from Huntington Beach, Calif., was the youngest member of the team that included seven Olympic gold medalists and the MVP of the 2008 Olympic Games, Clay Stanley. The 2012 Olympic team was chosen from that roster, where Sander was the only non-professional.
“To watch all his dreams come true, to see them unfold, it is so profound,” Kera Sander, Taylor’s mother, said. “He is way above any expectation we could have ever had for him.”
After helping lead the 21U Men’s Junior National Team to a gold medal at NORCECA in 2010, the 6-foot-4 hitter rejoined Team USA last summer for another glimpse at the Olympic life. Sander led the U.S. Men’s National Team to a gold medal at the Pan American Cup in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Sander captivated those in attendance, earning himself tournament MVP.
“Playing with the Pan-Am team this summer, winning a gold medal and being named the MVP has to be my proudest moment,” Sander said. “I was one of the youngest kids, I just wanted to add to the team and contribute. I didn’t go thinking I could ever win the MVP award. The guys I was playing with are professionals. It was a shock, but definitely really exciting.”
Sander was no stranger to volleyball when he first stepped onto the court. Sander grew up on the sidelines watching his mother play from the comfort of a swing as a four-month-old baby boy. He then moved to a playpen and when he learned to walk, he knew he wasn’t allowed to cross the blue lines.
Taylor’s sister Britney took after their mother’s love first, which peaked Taylor’s interest in the sport. Because of his sister’s talent, a local club asked Taylor to try out at the age of nine.
Despite his early start in the sport, it wasn’t until he was 16 years old that the 2011 MPSF Freshman of the Year first started to realize he had a special talent.
“I was never a hitter, I was just a setter so I never really stood out,” Sander said. “I switched to hitter when I was 16 and I started hearing college coaches were interested in me. It made me realize I was better than I thought.”
While he grew up a BYU fan, several top colleges noted Sander’s top-tier talent, including 2012 National Champion UC Irvine, USC and Long Beach State. With the top volleyball programs in the country recruiting him, Sander was pulled in different directions when it came time to pick where to play.
The Saturday before he had to make his college decision, former men’s volleyball coach Shawn Patchell called Sander and told him the coaches and team were going to fast for him to know where to go and asked if he would, too.
“Taylor came home from school Monday and asked for the phone and said, ‘I’m making my call I’m going to BYU,’” Kera Sander said, holding back tears.
Sander said he always knew where he was supposed to go.
“When I was getting recruited, I got to go visit a lot of schools and there were some things that took my attention away from BYU,” Sander said. “But at the end of the day and in the back of my mind, I always knew I belonged at BYU.”
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