Brian Cazeneuve: Volleyballer Danielle Scott-Arruda returns from pregnancy hopeful for 5th Olympics - Sports Illustrated

After pregnancy, U.S. volleyballer hopes for fifth Olympic team

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A rock in the middle of the volleyball court, Danielle Scott-Arruda has become as recognizable at U.S. matches as the ball and net. That's what happens when you've been a constant on the U.S. national volleyball team now for over 15 years. If she competes at the London Games, as expected, the veteran middle blocker will become the third female volleyball player, first from the U.S., to appear in five Olympics (Brazil's Helia Souza and Russia's Yevgeniya Artamonova have played in five consecutive Olympic Games). "I had no idea I'd be playing this long," Scott-Arruda says. "All I really wanted was a scholarship."

Growing up in Baton Rouge, Scott-Arruda was also a talented basketball and softball player. She attended Long Beach State, where she majored in liberal studies, dabbled in track as a high jumper and became the first woman in Big West Conference history to earn first-team honors in two sports: basketball and volleyball. She took her 49ers volleyball team to the NCAA finals in 1991 and won the title in 1993. Just after graduating, she joined the U.S. national team in May 1994.

Her sporting career could have turned to a different court. Unable to shake her basketball inklings, she tried out with the Los Angeles Sparks in 1998 and 1999, and the following season was placed on the training camp roster of the Portland Fire before they released her. Despite not breaking into the sport herself, she remains an unabashed Lakers fan.

Scott-Arruda embarked on an international volleyball career that took her West, East and South. She has spent five stints in Brazil, playing for four different teams: two in Italy for a pair of clubs and one in Japan, playing appropriately enough for a team called the Pioneer Red Wings. While living in Brazil, she became fluent in Portuguese and married Eduardo Arruda, a former member of the country's esteemed national team.

Scott-Arruda's leaping ability and superb timing made her a daunting presence on the front lines of any match. And she could always be spotted downing her personal pregame pick-me-up. She had had a career-long ritual of eating chocolate before each of her matches. Surely some sweet-leaning sponsor might one day tap her on the stomach.

In 2001, her finest international season, Scott-Arruda cleaned up at the international awards, being named best blocker, best scorer and most valuable player of the World Grand Prix series by the FIVB, the sport's international governing body. In 2007, she received the honor of carrying the flag for the U.S. delegation during the opening ceremonies at the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Her U.S. teams placed seventh, fourth and fifth at the Olympics, before finally taking silver at the Beijing Games in 2008. There, the United States ironically lost to Brazil, 3-1 (25-15, 18-25, 25-13, 25-21), a team Scott-Arruda knew like, well, the front of her palms. "It's a blessing to have this around my neck after so long," she said after the match. "It's so shiny and it was a longtime coming." It only made sense that Scott-Arruda would think of stopping.

She did sit out the 2010 season while giving birth to a daughter, Julianne (Ju-lee-AH-nay), but then carted her along through another season on the court. "I think having Julianne, wanting her to know that I was able to come back and have her see me play at a high level has been a motivation for me," she says. "It's been a great journey and I hope to be a good example for my daughter."

In November, the U.S. squad secured an Olympic berth in a 12-team round-robin competition, topping Italy in the decisive match. The U.S. women's indoor teams have two silver medals and one bronze, but never gold at an Olympics. They also have never won the world championships. Hugh McCutcheon, who coached the men's team to gold in 2008, will lead them this time and the U.S. will be among the medal favorites. But admittedly, Scott-Arruda may not have a starring role on this year's team as she has in the past. "I'm blessed that volleyball found me," Scott-Arruda says. "I'm really blessed that it doesn't want to let me go."