Gold Medal Effort

Coaches Marv Dunphy (right) and Karch Kiraly pose near the Olympic rings in the Olympic Village in Tokyo.

Pepperdine Waves coaching legend Marv Dunphy’s role on the coaching staff of the U.S. women’s volleyball team changed at the outset of the Olympic games in Tokyo last month.

Dunphy, Pepperdine men’s volleyball head coach emeritus, was set to be one of Team USA’s two consultant coaches for the sporting spectacle, but due to COVID-19 protocols, one of the U.S.’s assistant coaches couldn’t be on the bench for some time in the games’ initial days. So, Dunphy, who coached the U.S. men’s national team to a No. 1 ranking and numerous international wins in the 1980s, was asked to sit on the bench with the rest of head coach Karch Kiraly’s assistant coaches.

Instead of scouting upcoming opponents, Dunphy, Pepperdine’s head coach of 34 years who retired in 2017, was helping direct the U.S.’s offense against some of the best volleyball teams in the world. 

“Nothing ever goes as planned,” Dunphy said. “You have to adjust, and we did that.” 

After the assistant coach Dunphy replaced returned to the team, Dunphy wasn’t shooed to the side when it came to coaching America’s top volleyball talent. Instead, Dunphy spent the rest of the Olympic run offering tactical support during the matches to Kiraly and the assistant coaches via a headset.  

“They thought I could add value with scouting and [through] just having been there before,” Dunphy, who was participating in his eighth Olympics, said. “There are always things that come up as you go along that, having been there before—I guess from my standpoint I could offer some things that worked at other games.” 

The U.S. dominated most of the competition and then beat Brazil, 3-0 (25-21, 25-20, 25-24), on Aug. 7 to finish the 16-day Olympics with gold medals adorning their necks. 

Dunphy said winning gold was special.

“There is the warm, lasting feeling at this point in time that we are the best at what we do,” he said. “That’s a great feeling. You have to earn that. You don’t just get to win.”

The hall of fame coach was a consultant coach for the women’s team that snagged a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics in London and a scouting coach for the red, white and blue women’s group that finished the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro with a bronze medal. Finishing atop the medal stand in Japan, Dunphy said, was the completion of a task.

 “I think it’s going to establish a standard for years to come,” he said. 

Dunphy’s first Olympic foray was in 1988 when he coached the U.S. men’s team to a gold medal in Seoul. He was an assistant coach for the men’s squad at the 2000 games in Sydney and a consultant coach for the bunch at the 1996, 2004 and 2008 Olympics before Kiraly, a player on the team that Dunphy coached to Olympic gold, asked him to join the women’s national team’s coaching staff in 2012. 

Dunphy said comparing the women’s team’s triumph this summer to his other international volleyball experiences is like asking a parent who their favorite child is. He said each success is unique.

“In ’88, we had won in ’84, so we were the heavy favorites to win it, and we did,” said Dunphy. “When we won it, I felt relief like, ‘Well, I didn’t mess this one up.’ In 2012 and 2016, we were co-favorites; we came close, but were hit with some tough stuff. This one feels complete.” 

The women’s team’s downing of Brazil garnered the U.S. women’s volleyball program its first-ever Olympic gold medal. 

The team started the Tokyo Games with a 3-0 win over Argentina and then a 3-0 win over China. The U.S. beat Turkey, 3-2, before falling to the Russian Olympic Committee, 3-0. The Americans defeated Italy, 3-2, in their final pool play match. The Americans then began the Olympic tournament with a quarterfinal victory over Dominican Republic and then a semifinal win over Serbia—both with scores of 3-0—before winning the gold medal match.  

Dunphy said the U.S. got better throughout the Olympics as players recovered from injures. The team hit its stride in the tournament, the coach said. 

“Our best matches by far were those last three matches,” Dunphy recalled. “We really dominated some good teams. Our captain, Jordan Larson, led the charge. She is one tough cookie and she led by example. The team just followed her lead. She was always focused on the next play and solutions.”

Larson, a three-time Olympian, was named the Olympics’ most valuable player and a best outside hitter. Michelle Bartsch-Hackley was named the other best outside hitter and Justine Wong-Orantes was named best libero. Jordyn Poulter was named best setter and Haleigh Washington was named best middle blocker. Former Pepperdine player Kim Hill was the team’s serving specialist. 

Italy and Turkey entered the Olympics as favorites to win the gold medal. The ROC had a strong team, and Serbia had possibly best player in the world, Tijana Boskovic, on its roster. Dunphy said the U.S. played outstanding volleyball in order to finish on top. 

“That’s what made it even better,” he said. “We couldn’t just throw the ball to this phenomenal player [Boskovic] who is the best spiker in the world. We had to out team them and do all the little things that go into making up a team.” 

Dunphy called it an honor to have been part of the national team’s coaching staff. “We all like to be part of something good,” he said. “The Olympic movement is alive, well and good. I would challenge anybody to say what other event in the world today is like the Olympic games. You are competing against the very best, but also there is the theme of togetherness and sportsmanship that I really enjoy. I’m lucky to be able to go along. The Olympics are unlike any other event.” 

Dunphy would join the next Olympic team’s coaching staff if he could be a benefit to the squad. 

“If Karch is the coach, and he asks me, I would do it in a heartbeat,” Dunphy said. “If I could be helpful, I would do it in a minute.”