Michelle Bartsch-Hackley
FIVB

Michelle Bartsch-Hackley goes from coaching to U.S. volleyball MVP

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I tell Michelle Bartsch-Hackley as I rise at the end of our sitdown interview that I’m heading upstairs to ask her coach, Karch Kiraly, about her.

“He’s going to say, this girl is terrible. I almost cut her,” Bartsch-Hackley says without a laugh but, mostly, in jest. 

Actually, Bartsch-Hackley was cut from the Olympic team. That’s just one hurdle the 6-foot-4 native of the horseradish capital of the world cleared to become an indispensable part of the U.S. volleyball team.

Bartsch-Hackley was named MVP of the premier summer tournament, the FIVB Nations League, and has the most powerful right arm on the 14-player roster for the quadrennial world championship that starts Saturday in Japan. The U.S. is defending champion and no doubt eager to better its bronze-medal effort from the Rio Games.

Bartsch-Hackley, an outside hitter nicknamed Slugger, is working on an indoor volleyball career as unique as her 14-letter last name and pulled-back pink hair.

Bartsch-Hackley all but gave up in the first few months post-college, moved to California and considered beach volleyball, coached for a men’s college program, tried out for and made the only club team that gave her a chance and played so well that the legendary Kiraly called and asked her to a two-week trial with the national team in 2015.

Bartsch-Hackley was 25. That’s old to start a national-team career, much less try out for the first time. Everybody on the Rio Olympic team began playing international tournaments for the national team at 24 or younger.

“Most players, once they’re playing beyond college, if they’re hungry to get in here, they might write me a letter and be a little vulnerable and expose themselves and say something like, would there be any room in the gym for me?” said Kiraly, the only player to win Olympic beach and indoor gold medals and the U.S. women’s head coach since 2012. “Bartschy would say, I didn’t want to be that kind of player.”

Bartsch-Hackley had the pedigree of a youth and junior national team player. But she didn’t know what she wanted out of volleyball in 2012, shortly after ending an All-American ride at the University of Illinois that culminated with the first NCAA title game appearance in program history (a loss to UCLA).

She began playing pro in Puerto Rico but lost more in three months than she did in four years in Champaign.

“There were a lot of things that were like, this is not what I expected,” Bartsch-Hackley said. Pressed, she mentioned “different circumstances” within the team, like not getting paid on time. “Getting a paycheck is cool, but if I’m not loving it, I don’t want to do it.”

She didn’t love it. Bartsch-Hackley, then engaged to Corbin Hackley, returned to Illinois later that year. She completed her undergraduate degree in sport management while aiding the Illini coaching staff.

Who knows what would have happened if not for David Kniffin, an assistant for the NCAA runner-up team who in 2012 became the men’s head coach at UC Irvine (succeeding John Speraw, now the U.S. men’s national team head coach).

Kniffin told Bartsch-Hackley that she could move to California, play some beach volleyball and volunteer coach with the Anteaters for the 2013 season. She tried it.

“They always valued my opinion,” Bartsch-Hackley said of the men’s team that repeated as NCAA champion that season. “They would give me s—, and I would give them s— back. I never felt outnumbered.”

But as she pored and pored over match video in an office that season, one thought dominated. I just want to go play. And not on the beach.

Bartsch-Hackley said her agent told her one team in the world was interested, but only for a tryout.

So she towed a month’s worth of luggage to Vilsbiburg, a Bavarian farming town an hour outside of Munich. Bartsch-Hackley said the year off from playing made her a worse player going into the tryout than when she had finished at Illinois.

“I started from zero,” she said.

It took a month and a half, but she got a contract. After one season, she transferred to Bundesliga champion Dresden, helped that club win another German title in 2015 and played in the European Champions League.

Dresden teammate Molly Kreklow, a U.S. national team member, asked Bartsch-Hackley if she could mention her name to Kiraly. They Skyped, and Bartsch-Hackley accepted a two-week trial offer with the national team.

We almost had no choice but to invite her here because her play did the talking,” said Kiraly, who had thought Bartsch-Hackley had retired until he saw her pop up in Germany.

Bartsch-Hackley’s first memories with Team USA are the nerves. Kiraly texts to schedule one-on-one meetings. Every time, Bartsch-Hackley dreaded she’d be told to pack her bags and return to Germany.

“I would go up there, palms sweating,” she recalled. “[Kiraly would say], ‘I just wanted to tell you that you’re working hard, and we appreciate your hard work.’ I’m like, can you just text me and tell me you’re not cutting me when you want to talk?”

As much as Bartsch-Hackley impressed the coaches, she was stuck behind a murderer’s row of outside hitters.

Come Rio Olympic selection, it was USA Volleyball Player of the Year Jordan Larson, 2014 World Championship MVP Kim Hill and Italian League MVP Kelsey Robinson. Kiraly delivered the bad news.

“If we took four outside hitters to Rio instead of three, she would have been [on the team],” he said. 

It didn’t stop her.

While Larson, Hill and Robinson took 2017 off (as many Olympians do the post-Games year), Bartsch-Hackley earned a most improved player award. This year, coaches moved Robinson to libero, opening a spot for Bartsch-Hackley with the returns of Larson and Hill.

At Nations League, Bartsch-Hackley ranked second in the final round in scoring behind Rio Olympic MVP Zhu Ting of China. In the final against Turkey, she started at outside hitter with Larson, was benched, and then came back in at the opposite position and helped the U.S. win in five sets.

“She brought us what we needed, brought us some more efficient blocking and a big arm, a slugger arm,” Kiraly said. “That helped turned the match around for us.”

Bartsch-Hackley reflected on a concession-area stool at the American Sports Centers in Anaheim this summer. Then she thought about those meetings with Kiraly in 2015, when she was sure she would be cut.

“I’m not sure if I’m confident still,” she said about her place on the team. “I don’t think anyone is ever super comfortable, but I think that’s good.”

MORE: New beach team nets biggest U.S. breakout in a decade

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Scott Brosius to take USA Baseball managerial job, replacing Joe Girardi

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Just one month before the Premier 12, a tournament giving the U.S. baseball team an opportunity to qualify for the 2020 Olympics, USA Baseball has announced a managerial switch.

USA Baseball executive Scott Brosius, who won three World Series with the New York Yankees from 1998 to 2000 and had a slugging percentage of .529 in four World Series appearances, will take over in place of Joe Girardi. USA Baseball said Girardi has stepped down to focus on opportunities in Major League Baseball.

Brosius was previously named to serve as the team’s bench coach. Several other coaches have been reshuffled, with Willie Randolph moving to bench coach, Ernie Young moving to third base and 2000 gold medalist Anthony Sanders joining the staff to coach at first base. Left unchanged: hitting coach Phil Plantier, pitching coach Bryan Price and bullpen coach Roly de Armas.

The U.S. team will play the Netherlands, host Mexico and the Dominican Republic, starting Nov. 2. The top two teams from the group will advance to the six-team Super Round in Japan.

The top finisher from the Americas region and the top finisher from Asia/Oceania (except Japan, which has an automatic bid as host) will qualify for the Olympic baseball tournament. The U.S. will have two more opportunities to qualify after that.

The U.S. won silver in the first Premier 12 tournament in 2015. As in 2015, the U.S. will not use players on MLB 40-man rosters.

PREMIER 12: Roster

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Taylor Phinney picks creativity over cycling, ending race career to focus on art

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Three-time Olympian and two-time world champion Taylor Phinney announced Wednesday that he is retiring from cycling and will pursue his other passion — art. 

“I want to say thank you to everyone that has cheered me on and sent me good energy over the last twelve years!” Phinney said via Instagram. “I appreciate you all. Alas, in the battle between Art and Sport, ART WON.”

Phinney is the son of two decorated Olympians. Davis Phinney won bronze in the team time trial, which is no longer contested in the Olympics, in 1984. Connie Carpenter-Phinney was an Olympic speedskater who switched sports to win the cycling road race, also in 1984.

Like his father, who won Tour de France stages in 1986 and 1987, Phinney went back and forth between track and road cycling, winning world championship medals in each discipline and racing in both sports in the Olympics. He made his Olympic debut at age 18, taking seventh on the track in the individual pursuit.

His biggest successes on the track followed over the next two years, when he won the 2009 world championship in the individual pursuit and defended his title in 2010. He also took silver in the 1km time trial in 2009 and bronze in the omnium in 2010.

After switching to road racing, he won the prologue in the 2012 Giro d’Italia. He then came close to two Olympic medals, placing fourth in the time trial behind a who’s who of road cycling — Bradley Wiggins, Tony Martin and Chris Froome, two of whom were racing on home soil. In the road race, he placed fourth again, in the same time as bronze medalist Alexander KristoffA few weeks later, Phinney rebounded to take two silver medals in the individual and team time trials at the world championships.

His career was threatened when he suffered a compound fracture on a harrowing descent in the 2014 U.S. Championships, but he recovered to take gold in the team time trial in the 2015 world championships and silver in the same event the next year. He also debuted in the Tour de France in 2017 and offered the occasional behind-the-scenes look at life in the three-week race.

But he hasn’t been as active in the last two years. In 2018, he was eighth in the legendary one-day Paris-Roubaix race. This year, he won the team time trial in the Tour of Colombia but has no other major results.

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Yoooo hey hi hello ! So yes, I’m happy to announce that I am hanging up my professional road cycling cleats at the end of this season… I want to say thank you to everyone that has cheered me on and sent me good energy over the last twelve years! I appreciate you all. . Alas, in the battle between Art and Sport, ART WON. I’m so happy and genuinely excited—almost giddy at the prospect of being able to CREATE full time. My heart is full and I look forward to sharing what the future brings with whoever wants to follow. . As far as cycling goes…I’m more in love with bikes now than I have ever been before. My body is very relieved now that it knows that I will not be punishing it to the fullest extent of my capabilities 😅. My mind is refreshed from a summer of adventure and my heart is opening at a rate that terrifies me in the best of ways! I am so grateful to this sport for the teachings I’ve received, the connections I’ve made, and the stories I can share from the crazy days on the bike. . I want to thank all my friends in the peloton and I wish you all the best of luck. I will let you know what it is like on the other side 🙂

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Phinney’s art, a mix of abstraction and words, shows little influence from his cycling career. He also has launched a site and Instagram feed for his art under the name Manifest Butter.

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