Zach Upp (C) waits at the net for the U.S. men's sitting volleyball team.
With eight Paralympians from the 2016 Games on its roster, the U.S. men’s sitting volleyball team hosts a bevy of experience and veteran talent.
But when the men walked with the American delegation through the Parapan American Games Lima 2019 opening ceremony on Friday night, one of them was taking everything in for the first time.
Zach Upp (Bartlett, Illinois) is one of the newest faces on the team, and is making his Parapan debut in Peru this summer as an outside hitter.
Upp and the U.S. men took on host country Peru in their first match in the group play stage of competition on Saturday at the Callao Sports Center. The Americans earned a decisive 25-4 win in the opening set, with Upp closing out the set with multiple ace serves against the Peruvians.
“Usually the first match is a little more mellow but it was awesome playing the host country as the first team and having so many people here for the first game,” Upp said. “It was definitely crazy, there were a lot of good vibes and good energy.”
At 19 years old, Upp is the youngest member of the men’s team by a long shot. His roommate in Oklahoma, where the team trains, is three decades his senior.
“It’s definitely crazy. It’s a big difference in age, but I’ve gotten used to it and I think a lot of them have too,” Upp said, who joined the national team in 2017. “They all have kids and families, and I just graduated from high school. It’s been a bit of an adjustment but I think I’ve matured a lot from high school and moving away from home.”
Team USA logged another 25-4 win in set two and a 25-16 win in the final set to complete a sweep of Peru.
Lima 2019 is a critical competition for the U.S. men’s team, as they must win gold in order to punch their ticket to the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.
“Tokyo definitely is on everyone’s minds right now. It’s a big part of this event and the main thing on our mind that we have to beat Brazil and Canada,” Upp said. “It’s definitely harder to play in last-chance qualifiers against all the other countries in the world that are also fighting for it. This is the place to do it and we’re going to really push for it.”
Over the upcoming years, Upp could likely become one of the main faces of sitting volleyball moving forward. Coach Gregory Walker named Upp as one of the starting outside hitters against Peru.
But for now, he’s committed to this team, this year and increasing their chances of winning gold in Peru.
“I definitely want to become a little more impactful and become more of a bigger player on the team. Of course, we’re definitely going for the win and if I’m just supporting that, I’m okay with that,” Upp said. “But I worked really hard in high school to get to this spot. It feels really good to represent the U.S. and be a person who might be able to inspire others.”