Carli Lloyd, the soccer star, is certain to be representing the United States at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August. Another Carli Lloyd, the volleyball setter, is fighting for the chance to do the same.
Her play in three preliminary matches in the FIVB World Grand Prix at Long Beach State this weekend with the U.S. women’s national team could be crucial in deciding her fate. The Grand Prix is the last tournament before Coach Karch Kiraly decides who to include on the 12-player Olympic roster.
Lloyd was in for only a few minutes of top-ranked Team USA’s first set against No. 5 Japan on Saturday night, just long enough to set up three thunderous spikes that caused the crowd to erupt into cheers.
Lloyd joined the team in January 2011 but really began to make a name for herself in 2015, when she was the most valuable player of the Pan American Games after helping the U.S. to its first gold medal at the tournament.
Lloyd said that an injury, among other things, caused her to fundamentally change her approach, helping her shine in 2015 and 2016.
“I had a bad injury that led me to wanting to learn more about how I could help my body, which led me to my mind,” Lloyd said. “I’ve known that volleyball is my passion for a long time … but I thought it was more physical than mental, and in the past few years I’ve learned that the mental side of the game is just as important. I read a lot of books and I learned what meditation does for me as a person, not only on the court but off the court as well.”
The team’s strength at setter makes Lloyd’s road to Rio a tough one. She is one of three playing the position for the U.S. this weekend; the others are Courtney Thompson, one of four current players with Olympic experience, and Alisha Glass, a two-time USA Volleyball female indoor athlete of the year who started Friday and Saturday.
The standard for teams is two setters, though Kiraly said it’s “definitely possible” that he’ll take three to the Games. He plans to announce his decision a week from Monday, after the preliminary rounds of the Grand Prix conclude in Hong Kong.
Right now, for Lloyd and several others, her teammates are also her rivals.
“It’s a hard atmosphere, but the culture we’ve built is a really respectful culture, so we’re doing a lot to make the people around us better,” Lloyd said. “I’m learning every day. People who have been to the Olympics, they share their stories and they’re so open to helping the people around them.”
The Olympics are the ultimate goal for Lloyd, but she was quick to say the U.S. can expect a good showing no matter what.
“[A spot on the Olympic roster] would mean that all the work I’ve done puts me in a position to help this team be its best,” she said. “But I know that this team, whoever is on it from here on out, is going to do great things over there.”