COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Jan. 23, 2020) – Matt Anderson and Aaron Russell are sometimes mistaken for each other.
It’s not that surprising. Anderson is listed at 6-foot-10 and Russell at 6-9. Both are lean and sometimes wear facial hair.
Russell, 26, plays outside hitter and Anderson, 32, plays opposite for the U.S. Men, although he started his career on the left side.
Both men played for Penn State, although they did not overlap.
In 2019, Anderson led the U.S. Men in scoring with 268 points. Russell was right behind him in second with 223.
Now each man has been named 2019 USAV Male Indoor Co-Player of the Year. Anderson earned the title for the sixth time (2012, ’13, ’14, ’15, ’18). It’s a new honor for Russell.
Anderson and Russell were both important parts of the veteran group of players that led the U.S. Men to a silver medal at the 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League (VNL) and a bronze at the FIVB World Cup.
Most importantly, both helped the U.S. Men qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games by winning the three-match qualifier in August in Netherlands.
Each player admires the other. That came through in email answers each sent from their Italian club teams.
“Matt has always played a big role for us as a go-to guy in important situations and this summer was no different,” Russell said. “I admire the way he's adapted to what the team needs most as the squad has changed so much during his career.”
“Aaron stepped up big time in the Olympic Qualification tournament in The Netherlands,” Anderson said. “He also played solidly for another entire grueling and long Word Cup.”
Both players cited player injuries as the biggest challenge of the 2020 season. Russell missed most of the VNL preliminary round with a knee injury. The team didn’t have outside hitter Taylor Sander at the World Cup due to a shoulder injury during VNL. Outside hitter Thomas Jaeschke was injured during the World Cup.
“I think the players who stepped into bigger roles did a great job,” Russell said. “In a way, this was really good for our program in growing our depth as a squad.”
“That’s why we train the way we do,” Anderson said. “So we can try to acclimate (to lineup changes) as soon as possible.”
Each player is looking forward to carrying his Olympic experience into Tokyo in 2020.
“Every Olympic experience is different in some ways and the same in others,” said Anderson, a two-time Olympian. “Being able to ‘turn it off’ to start recovery and to free your mind of what has happened just hours before will allow me to move on to the next opponent and match. Dealing with the grand scale of everything that comes with an Olympic Games is another thing that comes with it not being my first rodeo.”
Russell is also happy to have an Olympics under his belt already.
“I remember being nervous before the first few games in Rio,” Russell said. “I was worried that I wouldn’t play well on such a big important stage. But after starting 0-2 in the preliminary round, my mentality had to change. I told myself ‘The only difference between these Olympic matches vs. any other match is the amount of exposure and hype.’”
What advice would each give his younger self?
”I would tell myself not to worry about what other people think of you,” Russell said. “I used to really stress about making everyone else happy. But as I've grown, I've learned that most of the negative opinions aren't worth my time.”
Anderson would tell himself, “Keep doing what you’re doing. Everything that has happened has led me to where I am as a person and player, and I am very happy.”