It was a monumental year for volleyball in 2016. The Rio Olympics, Stanford's seventh women's national championship, and two international beach volleyball events on U.S. soil were just a few of the memorable highlights from this year. We're reliving the best of 2016 in these awards.
Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross Win Bronze
Less than 24 hours after missing their chance for Olympic gold in Rio, Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross took the sand on Copacabana Beach to fight for bronze. Their opponents, Larissa Franca and Talita Antunes, won the first set and led 13-10 in the second, making the path to bronze for the American duo seem less and less likely by the second.
But Walsh Jennings caught fire. She put away six kills and a block, leading her team to a 17-14 lead. Continuing with that momentum, Ross and Walsh Jennings won the set 21-17 and went on to take the third and the medal 15-13.
Serbia Takes Down the USA Women in the Olympic Semifinal
In the semifinals of the women's indoor volleyball competition at the Rio Olympics, No. 1-ranked Team USA matched up against No. 6 Serbia.
The U.S. was undefeated in Rio and won the first set 25-20. The Serbians won the second and third before the Americans pushed a fifth with a 25-16 fourth-set victory. However, that momentum couldn't carry USA to the W, and the Serbians won 15-13 in the fifth.
The loss ended the USA women's quest for their first Olympic gold.
Female Athlete of the Year
Laura Ludwig, Germany
Germany beach volleyball player Laura Ludwig won seven FIVB World Tour gold medals in 2016 with partner Kira Walkenhorst, including Olympic gold in Rio. That performance added up to $191,187.50 in prize money, more than any other player on tour. To cap off an incredible year, Ludwig got shoulder surgery to fix a nagging injury and should be back better than ever in 2017.
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Male Athlete of the Year
Reid Priddy, USA
In the bronze medal match at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Reid Priddy came off the bench and scored 18 points for Team USA. The calm-under-pressure veteran helped lead his squad earn a spot on the podium after being down to Russia two sets to none in the bronze-medal match.
Two years earlier, Priddy's career appeared in jeopardy when he suffered a knee injury in World League pool play. Now, after his fourth Olympic appearance, Priddy said he has retired from the indoor game, but we may still see him out on the beach.
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Rookies of the Year
Stanford's Four Starting Freshmen
In their first season of college volleyball, Jenna Gray, Kathryn Plummer, Morgan Hentz, and Audriana Fitzmorris played a huge part in Stanford's national championship run. Gray, a setter, led the Cardinal with 1,173 assists; Plummer tallied the most kills of anyone on the team with 431; Hentz frustrated opposing teams to the tune of 630 digs; and Fitzmorris ranked second on the team only to tournament most outstanding player Inky Ajanaku with 186 blocks.
Coach of the Year
Pete Hanson, Ohio State
The Buckeyes men's volleyball team's year was supposed to be 2017, but the wins just kept coming in 2016. Ohio State tallied 23 straight victories en route to winning the NCAA national championship match over BYU. The 31-3 season marked the best record for the Buckeyes since 1978. Head coach Pete Hanson, in his 31st season at Ohio State, was named AVCA National Coach of the Year. Sophomore Nicolas Szerszen earned the Buckeyes' first AVCA National Player of the Year award, and junior Miles Johnson was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
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Team of the Year
USA Women's Sitting Team
Three USA volleyball teams came home from Rio with bronze medals, but only one team came away with gold. The U.S. women's sitting volleyball team defeated its rival China in straight sets in the Paralympics gold-medal match. Since the 2008 Paralympics, China and the USA have played in five gold-medal matches, with China winning four out of the five. With the Rio gold-medal victory, the USA began to chip away at that record.
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Record-Breaking Performance of the Year
Stanford Ties Penn State for Most Women's National Championships
When Penn State won the 2014 national championship, it snuck ahead of Stanford in the race for the most women's national championship titles. Only two years later, Stanford managed to tie it back up again when the Cardinal defeated Texas in the 2016 Division I national championship match.
UCLA and Nebraska are next in line with four titles each.
Most Improved Athlete
Simone Lee, Penn State
In 2015, Simone Lee played behind first-team All-American outside hitter Megan Courtney. With limited court time, Lee accumulated 158 kills, hitting .255, and added 39 digs. As a junior in 2016, Lee earned first-team All-American honors herself, tallying 503 kills, hitting .264, and collecting 194 digs and 63 blocks and playing in every one of Penn State's 121 sets.
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