Olympic dream comes true for three locals

Imagine if not one, but three, athletes from the same community were selected to the U.S. Olympic team. Now imagine if all three were together in the same sport under the Team USA umbrella.

That's exactly what Alan Knipe, David McKienzie and Russell Holmes have accomplished. Each is a member of the U.S. men's volleyball team that is in London for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. Knipe played at Marina High and later coached at Golden West College, and is head coach of the U.S. men's team. McKienzie played the final two years of his prep career at Huntington Beach High, and Holmes prepped at Fountain Valley High. Both are part of the 12-player roster.

Knipe still calls Huntington Beach home. Holmes lives in Fountain Valley and McKienzie currently resides in Hermosa Beach.

"There is a big Sunset League connection here," Knipe said.

"It's really great when an area has a local athlete make it to the Olympics," he said. "Three of us coming from the same area, though, is pretty special."

The men's volleyball team left July 19 for London. Knipe said his squad will scrimmage several times before its pool play opener against Serbia on Sunday. The Olympic tournament, he said, is certain to be formidable and challenging, but the experience should be unforgettable.

Knipe is coaching the U.S. for the first time. McKienzie and Holmes also will be making their Olympic debuts. Each has taken a different route to London.

Knipe, 42, recently completed his third season as head coach of the U.S. team. He coached for nine years at Long Beach State but took a leave of absence to coach the U.S. men's team. This year under Knipe, the U.S. won the NORCECA Men's Continental Olympic Qualification Tournament and won its pool at the World League to advance to the Final Round.

"Whether as a player or a coach, it's exciting to be part of the Olympic Games," said Knipe, who lives in Huntington Beach with his wife and two sons. "I'm honored to have the opportunity to lead the U.S. men's volleyball team."

It's been a long road for the 33-year-old McKienzie, a 6-foot-4, 215 opposite, to reach London. An all-league, All-CIF and All-America player at Huntington Beach High (Class of 1997), he went on to play for Knipe at Long Beach State. Before graduating in 2001, Knipe had been a two-time AVCA All-American. In a 1999 match at Brigham Young University, he set an NCAA Division 1 record for kills (58) in a match.

McKienzie, who had been a member of the 1998 USA men's Junior National team, was one of six alternates for the 2004 Olympics. He again just missed making the men's Olympic team four years ago, then left the U.S. team to compete overseas and on the beach volleyball circuit.

He didn't let the disappointment of not making past Olympic teams get him down. Instead, he used it as a catalyst these past four years.

"I'm just so happy right now. It's a dream come true," McKienzie said. "I've been so close to making the team. I had a pretty good chance of making it in 2004, but I got shuffled around a lot on the court.

"Now I have my moment and I'm going to make the absolute most of it. London is going to be an awesome experience and I think our team has some really high expectations. Brazil, Russia, Italy, Poland, they're all really good teams, but anything can happen at the Olympics."

For Holmes, 30, married and the father of a daughter, making the U.S. team came on his first attempt. Like McKienzie, the 6-8, 205-pound middle blocker was an all-everything player at Fountain Valley (Class of 2001) where he didn't start playing volleyball until his junior year.

He went on to play at BYU and was a redshirt freshman when the Cougars defeated Knipe's Long Beach State team in the 2004 national championship match. Like McKienzie, he twice earned AVCA All-American honors and during the 2007 season led the nation in block solos (28).

Holmes graduated from BYU in 2008, but didn't have the chance to compete for a spot on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team.

"It really is pretty cool to have three of us from the same area, the same league on the same Olympic team," Holmes said. "I'm exited for myself, but I'm really excited for David (McKienzie). He's come so close, so many times and he's a great veteran to have out there.

"When you get to a point like this, you look back at what brought you here. The journey to get to the Olympics has been incredible. We're focused now on being able to enjoy the experience of participating in the greatest sporting event in the world."


Twitter: @MikeSciacca

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