COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Dec. 4, 2015) – J. Dee Marinko (New Castle, Okla.), an outside hitter on the U.S. Men’s Sitting Volleyball Team, played a key role this year in helping the squad qualify for the 2016 Paralympics Games – its first trip to the premier event since 2004.
As a reward, Marinko has been selected as the 2015 USA Volleyball Male Sitting Player of the Year. John Kremer (Buford, Ga.), in his first full season with the U.S. Men’s Sitting Volleyball Team, was recognized as the 2015 USA Volleyball Male Sitting Most Improved Player.
Marinko notched 67 points in seven matches at the 2015 Parapan American Games in leading Team USA to the silver medal, which netted a ticket to the 2016 Paralympic Games next summer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He averaged 3.19 points per set, which including 2.76 kills, 0.33 blocks and 0.14 aces per set.
“I am completely and utterly shocked,” Marinko said upon learning the news of being the top male sitting volleyball player for 2015. “I don’t feel like I worked any harder than anybody else. I think we all put in a tremendous amount of hard work and sacrifice of time to achieve our goals of qualifying for the Paralympics. I am completely shocked.”
Bill Hamiter, director for USA Volleyball’s High Performance Sitting Volleyball Program, feels Marinko is well-deserving of the honor as he helped diversify Team USA’s offense.
“J. Dee Marinko is large in stature and heart,” Hamiter said. “He has developed his heavy-hitting right arm into a dependable outside hitter that the men’s team needed. His play this year has helped balance the men’s attack so that it isn’t as one-dimensional as it once was. J. Dee’s impact has not only been from the front row. He has served and passed efficiently to provide the team with scoring opportunities. J. Dee’s all-around play and passion for the game has made a major impact on the men’s team this year.”
Kremer, who has been part of the U.S. Men’s Sitting Team Program at the A2 level last year, was elevated to the top team following a successful 2014 season in which he was captain of the U.S. silver medal winning team at the Invictus Games in London. Kremer, who served nine years in the U.S. Navy as an explosive ordinance technician first class, lost both his legs below the knee after stepping on a land mine in Afghanistan.
In 19 sets with Team USA in 2015, Kremer averaged 1.26 digs per set and contributed a 37 positive reception percent on 133 chances with just eight errors.
“John Kremer trained with our A2 program for several years as a part of our military veterans program,” Hamiter said. “He was moved on to the national team late last year and has performed like he was a veteran of the team. His passing and defense improved so much this year that he took over the starting libero roll by the Parapan American Games in August. His play is one reason the team earned a spot into the Paralympic Games Rio 2016. It has been wonderful to see this veteran of our Armed Forces take on a prominent role with the U.S. Men’s Sitting Team.”
Marinko acknowledged that the award would not be possible with the likes of Kremer and the rest of his teammates.
“This award means a lot,” Marinko said. “To me it means that my teammates were there through the whole thing. I don’t look at this as an individual award – it is a team award because I wouldn’t be able to accept it if my teammates weren’t there. You can’t win a match 1-on-6. We couldn’t qualify for the Paralympics 1-on-6. Without my teammates - Eric Duda, Charlie Swearingen, Dan Regan, James Stuck, Roderick Green, Edgar LaForest, the other veterans and even the new guys like Jon Kremer, Jese Schag, Ben Aman and Stephen Bracken – it is impossible for me to be considered for this.”
Marinko has overcome some great odds in his life. In 2009, he was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma cancer in his left leg and was told there was a 75 percent chance of the cancer returning. So he opted to have the lower part of his leg amputated.
For Marinko, who was a collegiate football player at Panhandle State University in Oklahoma prior to his diagnosis, sports became therapy in his recovery. He accepted the chance to become involved with the U.S. Men’s Sitting Team program and gradually learned the nuances of the sport.
After being a part of the squad for over five years, Marinko feels his hard work and sacrificing has begun to pay off. At the same time he is thankful for a support system that has enabled him to reach new heights.
“It took a lot sacrifice, a lot of hard work and time,” Marinko said. “Unfortunately, it took a lot of selfishness on my part to sacrifice to get where I am. I put a lot of extra time in the weight room and gym to get as many touches as I can. That is priceless and you can’t replace that. The only way to get better is by getting that. Fortunately, I had a good support system around me to help me get there.”
Marinko is not satisfied with just earning a berth into the 2016 Paralympics – he wants more and feels Team USA can reach the podium by conquering its biggest challenge.
“Our biggest challenge is going to be consistency,” Marinko said. “We can make runs of phenomenal play. I think if you look throughout every sport, not just ours, if you are not consistent enough and make the easy plays every time, then you can’t be successful. It takes consistently to make every easy play, make every easy pass, every easy set. If you can’t make those easy plays, there is no chance to make the incredible and hard play when needed.”
Marinko feels Team USA, which will be hiring a new head coach in the coming weeks, already has the athletes in place to make a run at the Paralympic podium. Yet, everyone will need to be on the same page.
“If, we as a team, can buy-in wholehearted and commit to it, I don’t think anything can stop us,” Marinko said. “The players we have on the court, I wouldn’t trade any of them for anyone in the world. That is just the way we are. I love every single one of my teammates, and there is nothing I wouldn’t do for them. I know in my heart that we have the ability to come home from Rio with a medal.”
As for his personal goal for 2016, Marinko remains humble on what 2016 can bring and would like nothing better than for the team to celebrate in Rio like it did in Toronto at the Parapan American Games.
“My personal goal is to get to Rio and for us to get on the podium. I would like to come out and say I want to be the best, I want to be recognized as the best in the world and all that. But that is everyone’s goal. But right now my goal is for the team. I have been on the team for almost five years, and I have put in so many hours with these guys. Just to see the jubilation and excitement that we had in Toronto, I want to carry that on. I want to do everything that I can do so that we can have that same celebration in Rio.”