After leading the U.S. Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team to its first Paralympic gold medal along with two other major tournament titles, Heather Erickson was named the USA Volleyball Female Sitting Player of the Year and Nicky Nieves was selected the squad’s Most Improved Player.
On the men’s side, Roderick Green and Josh Smith have been recognized for their contributions to the U.S. Paralympic Men’s Sitting Volleyball Team, with Green earning Male Sitting Player of the Year while newcomer Smith was selected as the men’s Most Improved Player.
In her role as Team USA’s captain, Erickson led the squad to its first Paralympic gold medal as well as titles at the World ParaVolley Intercontinental Cup and the Dutch Tournament. She recorded 65 points on 54 kills, seven blocks and four aces in Rio on her way to earning most valuable player and best receiver honors. She racked up 298 points for the season on 230 kills, 43 blocks and 25 aces.
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“This 2016 season has been a crazy year with a lot of fun stuff happening,” Erickson said to USA Volleyball. “Even though everything happened in 2016, all the work and sacrifices happened in year before. My team and I have been putting all of ourselves into the hopes that we might have a chance at possibly having a season like this one.”
Erickson also was considered for a pair of prestigious awards earlier in the year. She was a finalist for an ESPY award for “Best Female Athlete with a Disability” as well as the Women’s Sports Foundation 2016 Sportswoman of the Year.
Nieves racked up 141 points last season on 73 kills, 35 blocks and 33 aces to earn her honor.
“Nicky has contributed to the team in many ways this year, but her biggest improvement and impact was in the aggressiveness of her attacking,” said women’s head coach Bill Hamiter. “We really needed her to take some big swings from the outside and in the middle in two crucial rotations. Her willingness to work hard, make some technical changes in her swing and have a more aggressive mindset paid off for her and her team.”
A two-time track and field Paralympian, Green offered valuable leadership and experience to a men’s team that had not earned a Paralympic berth since 2004.
“Going into Rio, he did a great job of keeping the level of focus we were looking for the entire time,” said Greg Walker, head coach of the men’s sitting team. “He was monitoring his diet and keeping his teammates accountable for their actions.”
After earning a silver and two bronze medals in track and field, Green joined the U.S. men’s sitting team in since 2005. He was the team’s top scorer in Rio, posting 31 points on 22 kills, eight blocks and an ace in his four matches, starting all 14 sets at middle blocker in Brazil. More than half of his points came in a five-set loss to Germany when he recorded 17 points on 11 kills, five blocks and one ace.
Hinting at the contributions he would make in Rio, Green played a pivotal role earlier in the year with his performance at the International Cup in China, where he racked up 46 points on 32 kills, 10 blocks and four aces.
After being discovered at the 2014 Marine Corps Trial, Smith joined the resident team at the University of Central Oklahoma in 2015 to bolster experience that included only occasional sand-court games. He scored 10 points as a substitute in Rio and made key contributions in practice. Walker believes Smith’s experience in Brazil will pay future dividends.
“I am excited to see what he can do,” Walker said. “Rio was a great opportunity for someone like him to find that fire, saying we want to be back here and we want to contend.”