Ben Patch celebrates with his teammates at the FIVB Volleyball Nations League on June 30, 2019 in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
CHICAGO — Ben Patch has made a name for himself in part due to his rocket-powered spikes that some have estimated at more than 70 miles per hour. So how fast do his spikes actually travel?
“Depends on what I had for breakfast,” Patch said with a laugh.
In reality, it doesn’t matter what Patch eats in the morning to deliver his signature move for the highlight reels. His spiking ability has made him one of volleyball’s most feared opposite hitters.
“It's my favorite thing in volleyball,” he said. “It's probably my best skill in volleyball.”
Patch was speaking after a 90-minute practice session Tuesday ahead of Team USA’s Wednesday night opener in the FIVB Men’s Volleyball Nations League final round, which it will host at Credit Union 1 Arena in Chicago. The United States is in Pool A along with France and defending champion Russia in the six-team tournament. The preliminary round included 16 nations playing round-robin style – three matches a week, traveling to a different nation each week. The U.S. was guaranteed a finals berth as host nation, though likely would have qualified anyway as the sixth-ranked team.
Team USA earned bronze at the inaugural Volleyball Nations League in 2018.
It’s likely that all eyes will be on the 6-foot-8 Patch, and not just because of his signature blonde hair. His aerial exploits not only make him a menace to opponents, they also create an aura in which anyone watching would focus on him. Patch ranks as the 18th-best scorer and third-best attacker in Nations League play, both of which lead Team USA.
“Certainly from an athletic perspective, he's very gifted, he can jump really well,” Team USA coach John Speraw said. “He's exciting to watch because of the power that he brings but he's also a great teammate, great addition from a personality standpoint on the team so I think we're lucky in a couple ways.”
Born to an NFL player and collegiate soccer player, Patch was adopted at two days old by Utah couple Mike and Linda Patch. They soon moved to Tonga, where he spent his childhood, before returning to Utah. He began playing volleyball at age 15.
Volleyball didn’t seem a likely option for Patch in his younger days. He said he was only 5-foot-8 going into high school before he grew all the way to 6-foot-6. And it also hampered him a bit that Utah was hardly a hotbed for volleyballers.
And although many volleyball players also played basketball growing up, Patch was an exception since he never seriously played hoops. His initial volleyball exploits were actually with girls due to the dearth of boys’ programs in his home state.
“Sometimes in volleyball you do find that there are some guys who get into the sport a little bit later,” Speraw said. “So, he's one of them that's in that category. Some things he's brought to the game athletically, (but) there's other things he still has some room to grow and develop as a player since he is so new to the game.”
Patch is now a seasoned professional plying his trade in Germany and has been with the senior U.S. men’s team over the last three years. He was part of the squad that captured the bronze medal last year at the world championships.
His first experience in the U.S. program was at the youth level in 2011, participating in an event in Argentina. That showed him how much more he had to go to reach the elite level but also that it was within his reach.
“It's obviously a progression,” Patch said. “I was so new to volleyball at the time. A lot of the guys had been doing this since they were 8 or 9 years old. It was really new for me and just absolutely a blur because I was not used to playing with boys at the time for one and to play with elite athletes, you're still young but these are just athletic kids.”
One factor in Patch’s favor was that he could stay close to home for college since BYU had a top volleyball program. He made that decision despite being pursued by powerhouses such as USC and UCLA.
Patch possesses a major artistic side and also runs a photography business, with evidence of his prowess displayed on his Instagram account. What his teammates love is his constant energy on the floor, whether it is providing encouraging words or dancing to music.
“(It's) all positive energy, he really adds a lot to the team, he really has a great sense of fun,” Speraw said. “I think there's a real honesty to who he is, he's going to go out there and be who he is and not care what anybody else thinks.”
This tournament also serves as preparation for the Olympic qualifier in early August. Helping the team earn a spot at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, and later being named to that team, is Patch’s No. 1 goal. He believes Team USA has bonded tremendously during the course of the Nations League heading into the finals.
“This is a really good group of guys; there are a lot worse situations to be in I'm sure, in terms of team dynamics,” Patch said. “We have a really kind of smooth dynamic with each other and that makes for really good training and good camaraderie outside the court.”