COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Dec. 24, 2013) – In a year that has been all about transition and building for the U.S. Men’s Sitting Volleyball Team, coaches and athletes alike have looked to a veteran player to lead the way.
|James Stuck serves at the Parapan American Zonal Championship.|
James Stuck, who has been named the 2013 USAV Men’s Sitting Athlete of the Year, has been that guy.
Stuck (New Kensington, Pa.) was the starting setter for the U.S. men at the Pan American Zonal Championships as the team ran an entirely new 5-1 offensive system.
“That transition’s been huge,” U.S. Sitting Volleyball Head Coach Bill Hamiter said, “Not only has he accepted that role, but he’s used the strength and athleticism that he has, and that’s why we looked at him and gave him that nod.”
“This past year we did really well,” Stuck said, crediting his teammates for the strength of their offense. “Team spirit was really high [at the Pan American Zonal Championships]. Making it to the finals in a tournament running that for the first time made me feel really confident.”
The U.S. men finished second at the 2013 ParaVolley Pan American Zonal Championships in October, which qualified them for the 2014 World Championships. That will be their first chance to qualify for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The U.S. men missed qualifying for the 2012 Paralympics, and Stuck is frank about the effect that had on the team, but is optimistic about the future.
“It was a downer for the team. We had to take some time off, get our bearings set again, and refocus,” he said. “We have World Championships this summer, and that’s going to be a giant opportunity for us. It’s going to be hard, but it’s going to let us see how we’re doing as a team and where we sit in the world. It’s going to be interesting to see how our team reacts when a little more stress is put upon us.”
But no matter the outcome, Stuck, 29, is thrilled to simply be out on the court at all, having lost his right leg while serving with the Army in Iraq in 2005.
“I just love playing,” he said. “After everything I’ve gone through, with losing my leg and all the injuries, just being able to still play sports is the highlight, period.”
With the world championships on the horizon, Hamiter is confident in his setter’s abilities to get the team performing at its peak.
“I think as he really hones in his skills at that setter’s position, that’s really going to continue to make the team play at a higher and higher level,” Hamiter said.
In the offseason, Stuck has been focusing on school and spending time with his two young sons, who are 2 ½ years and six weeks old. Stuck credits his kids with keeping him going and making him set a good example.
“[I want to be] a role model on the court, not just for the team, but especially for my 2-year-old. It’s getting to the point where he copies,” Stuck said. “So if I blow a gasket on the court, he’s going to see that and he’s going to think that’s OK. So I want to show him that this is how we act on the court, and how we act for our team.”
Though enjoying his time off, Stuck is looking forward to the upcoming world championships and the Olympic Games in his future, hoping to enjoy a long career in volleyball.
“Rio is definitely on the agenda for me. And the way everything’s looking, 2020 is still on the agenda. I don’t plan on going anywhere,” Stuck said. “As long as time, family and my body permit, I plan on being around as long as possible.”