For Rich Lambourne to make the U.S. men's national volleyball team and ultimately the Olympic squad, he had to reverse roles.

An outside hitter for BYU's first NCAA championship team in 1999, Lambourne saw that the national program held little future for a guy who was competitive at that position but not stellar.

"I was decent ... not a total slouch," he said.

So he moved to libero, a defensive-oriented position just being added in international and collegiate play. Wearing an opposite-colored jersey from his team, Lambourne as the libero is not allowed to spike the ball and almost never sees front-line action — a big turnaround for an attack-minded offensive hitter in college.

"It was difficult to make the change," he recalled. "But it gives me an opportunity that I wanted to have to play on the national team.

"It's less exciting, less glamorous," he added, "but without that adjustment, I wouldn't have had national-team of Olympic experiences."

The transition took a little while, but soon he was the No. 2 libero for the United States. Trouble is, however, that there's only room for one at that position, and Lambourne had to sit and wait as second fiddle until just after the 2004 Athens Games.

"It was unfortunate, being the second guy," he said. "But this quad (four-year period since the Athens Olympics), I've played in every match of every time we've played."

Once the United States qualified for an '08 Summer Games berth, Lambourne knew he was Beijing-bound.

"It was tough to have it sink in because we've been totally all over the place," said Lambourne of the U.S. team's nonstop international schedule this summer. "Just the hectic nature of our travel disallowed any forethought of Beijing."


E-mail: taylor@desnews.com