Matt Anderson: Zionsville’s Olympian on Getting to Tokyo and Beyond
We are proud to feature on this month’s cover Zionsville resident and three-time USA Men’s Volleyball Olympian Matt Anderson. Anderson, an opposite/outside hitter, made his third appearance at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, last month.
The U.S. Men fell to Argentina on Sunday, Aug. 1, 2021, in the quarterfinals at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, finishing with a 2-3 record. Obviously, not the finish the team worked for, but nonetheless, their nation and their supporters are immensely proud of their accomplishments, dedication to the sport and for representing the USA so honorably.
We spoke with Anderson about his career and what it takes—in his words—to make it to the Olympics, not once but three times.
The Road to Becoming an Olympian
Anderson was born in Buffalo, New York, and raised in West Seneca. He graduated from West Seneca High School in 2005 and went to Pennsylvania State University.
Anderson left college following his junior year to play professionally with the Hyundai Capital Skywalkers in Korea. He has also played professionally in Russia and Italy. At 25, Anderson was the youngest player on the 2021 U.S. Men’s Olympic Volleyball team.
“I played a multitude of sports growing up,” Anderson shared. “When a family friend suggested that I try out for volleyball, it was something that I really liked, so I just kept playing. I was told that I was good, but if I wanted to get better, I’d have to start playing travel [volleyball]. My parents scraped together some money, and I started playing travel and got a little better in high school. Then I tried out for some other U.S. high-performance stuff, and I made a training camp one year as well. When I made the youth national team, I started getting recruited by colleges.”
When asked about his decision to leave Penn State to go pro, Anderson replied, “I realized that professional [volleyball] was the next step for me, and if I wanted to potentially become an Olympian that playing pro was what I needed to do. So, I made that decision after talking with my college coach and my family about what it would take. Could I deal with being away from my family in a different country for eight months, and did I understand what it actually means to be a professional athlete? It turned out that I didn’t, but I quickly learned.”
Anderson was only 21 years old when he began his professional volleyball career.
“The doors just kept opening, and I just kept walking through them,” Anderson reflected. “It was wild and fun and really hard work, but the joy that I got out of it was amazing.”
Life as a Pro Athlete Overseas
After playing in South Korea and Italy, Anderson went to Russia to play pro volleyball for seven years. He reflected on what it was like being a young American athlete in Russia.
“At first it was really tough,” Anderson said. “I think Russians—in general—are a little closed, culturally. My teammates have a lot more international experience, therefore, they’re not as closed, but still to be accepted into the group was difficult at first. One of the things that I’m proud about with the way that I carry myself as an athlete is my work ethic. I just put my head down and worked hard. It took about a year and a half for them to welcome me with open arms and not have that skepticism about me. I did a lot of growing up in those seven years, as an individual and as a player. The guys that I played with were there for that part of my journey, and some will be lifelong friends.”
Realizing the Dream of Playing in the Olympic Games
Anderson graciously shared some of his thoughts on all three Olympic experiences and how he evolved over the years as an athlete and as a young man at the peak of his career.
“My first time at the Olympic Games was in 2012,” Anderson said. “I was the youngest guy on the team there in London, and I was a starter. It was an amazing experience, and I was really happy to be there and excited to compete. The second [Olympic appearance] was in Rio.”
When asked what was different about that experience from his experience in London, Anderson said, “A lot of different. The team consisted of a lot of different players—a lot more youthful ones. I went from being the youngest to a bit more of a veteran and more experienced player. I was 29, which is a really good age for athletes in our profession. You still have a lot of youth in your body, but you have more experience. We played Russia for the bronze.”
Anderson continued, “Ultimately, it was a great experience. We walked away with a medal, which is something a lot of people can’t say as Olympians. We were very grateful for the experience.”
Playing Amid a Pandemic
In his previous Olympic appearances, Anderson had the support of his family—in person. This year’s Olympics did not allow for fans and family to be present. To add to that disappointment, Anderson has married and had a son since his last Olympic run, and it was hard for him to be separated from them.
“The hardest thing for me was just the distance and knowing that I wasn’t going to see them for that whole time,” Anderson said. “FaceTime is great, but physical contact and being in the same room is huge for me and my family. It sucked, plain and simple. But for the sporting and competition part, I didn’t necessarily have a bad experience with no fans—I was able to keep a level head and be calm throughout, but it didn’t have the full feel of the Olympic Games without the fans and because of all the restrictions. But again, I am just grateful for the experience.”
Anderson shared his disappointment for not fully realizing their goals in Tokyo but emphasized that he’s not done—yet.
“I can rest easy knowing that I don’t have regrets in the training,” Anderson stated. “Now, the execution and how it all came out is going to be a tough pill to swallow. Our team, when we’re all healthy, is a really hard team to stop. I’m definitely sad that the result wasn’t what we wanted, but I am grateful for the overall journey and—I’m going to try again.”
Setting Roots in Zionsville, Indiana
Anderson’s wife, Jacquelyn (Jackie), grew up in Indianapolis, and when the couple decided it was time to find some property and set up their “forever” homestead, the couple found six acres that they immediately fell in love with located in Zionsville and were married on the property.
“We stumbled upon this house [and property], and I was like, ‘We don’t have to look any further.’ It’s been really awesome [living here], and the downtown area is a great place. It reminds me a lot of my hometown in New York.”
Anderson jested, “I’m still a diehard Buffalo Bills fan and am still a season ticket holder.”
Three-time Olympian (2012, 2016, 2020); one-time Olympic Medalist (1 bronze)
Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, 10th
Olympic Games Rio 2016, bronze
Olympic Games London 2012, 5th
World Championship Experience
Most recent: 2018 – bronze
Years of participation: 2010, 2014, 2018
Medals: 1 (1 bronze)
Bronze – 2018