Pryor, Erin

“Clay and I were at the beach with a volleyball and I challenged him to dig five straight balls that I could catch after he dug them. He made me agree to buy him a surfboard if he could do it,” remembered Clay’s father, Jon Stanley.

“Of course I didn’t think he’d be able to because I could just, hit the ball away from him and he had no skill to speak of at that time. After hitting four balls right at him and him getting them up, hit the fifth ball far to his left. He flat-out dove, fully extended and popped the ball up to me. I bought a board for him.”

Determination and preseverance have paid off for Clay Stanley. Although the Honolulu, Hawaii native didn’t really begin to play volleyball competitively until the spring of his junior year in high school for the Outrigger Canoe Club, Clay has developed into one of the premier players on the U.S. Men’s National Team.

“(Clay) is a very big and very physical guy that draws a lot of attention from opponents,” said USA Volleyball Man’s National Team head coach Doug Beal. “Clay has the potential to bring a tremendous amount to the court. His blocking is also steadily improving and he is already a very strong server. He’s already got three skills that have the ability to be point-scoring skills for us that create a lot of problems for the opponent.”

Playing in four of five matches in the USA’s recent domestic tour against Korea, Stanley, a 6’9″ opposite hitter, led the team in kills (53), total points (67) and service aces (8). In that five-match tour that saw the team visit locales in Colorado and Nebraska, he hit .488, had 13 digs and six blocks.

“I think I bring a lot of power to the court and hopefully some intimidation,” said Stanley, also known as “Bird.” “My strongest skill is probably my serving.”

Stanley may have had a late start in the sport, but volleyball is in his blood. His father, Jon, competed in the 1968 Olympics while a member of the National Team from 1966-1972, played professionally in the IVA from 1975-1980 and is a member of the Volleyball Hall of Fame.

The other side of Stanley’s family doesn’t run short on talent either. His mother, Sandra, was a member of the Canadian National Team from 1970-1972 and also played in the IVA for the Denver Comets.

“My parents didn’t pressure me to play volleyball,” said Stanley. “It was my decision.”

Despite his lack of experience, Clay was heavily recruited by some of the top men’s collegiate programs in the country. Ultimately, he chose to stay close to home and play for the University of Hawaii.

“Clay has made me proud in so many ways over the years, but in volleyball his first game (1997) for the University of Hawaii really stands out,” said Jon Stanley. “He had only been playing volleyball for a short time and he led the team in kills and was named the Player of the Game. His ability to excel at that level so soon was so impressive.”

As a sophomore in 1999 (he redshirted the 1998 season), Stanley broke Hawaii’s single-match kill record with 50 against UCLA. In 2000, he was named to the MPSF third-team after leading the loop in aces and typing the team record with 54. He also finished the season ranked in the Top 15 in the nation with a 5.53 kill average.

Although he had one year of eligibility remains, Stanley, an intended Spanish major, chose to leave Hawaii after the 2000 season to pursue a professional volleyball career. He played a season in Puerto Rico, joined the National Team in November of 2000 and has since played two seasons in Greece.

“I left Hawaii because I didn’t think that I was getting any better,” said Stanley. “I think the decision has paid off because I’ve gotten so much better mentally and physically.”

Stanley describes himself as someone who is “patient, competitive and hates to lose.” And according to his father, his description is right on the mark.

“He enjoys competing. Give him a challenge and he will do it,” said Jon Stanley. “As a junk soccer player on a junk team, the top team played the weakest team in the first round of the playoffs. Clay’s team goalie didn’t show up so the coach stuck Clay in the goal and he did such a great job that a top select league coach called us and asked to have Clay play for their team. I told the coach that Clay wasn’t very good, but the coach replied, ‘but he loves to play’ He loves to compete.”

In addition to his drive, determination and large stature, Stanley has a softer side. When he’s not on the court he likes to barbecue, surf and hang out at the beach with friends.

“Clay is a very independent and quiet person,” said Sandra Haine, Clay’s mother. “He is a man of few words, but he has a very kind heart. And he is absolutely the best barbecuer around, bar none.”

One might also be surprised to learn that Stanley is into ceramics.

“Not too many people would probably think that I could throw a pot on a wheel. In high school I took a few ceramics classes and kind of enjoyed it,” said Stanley.

Maybe there’s a possible art career in Clay’s future, but the man who plans on “continuing to play until (he) break(s),” is not looking for a career change.

Right now he has his mind on more important things like the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.

“My future goals are to win a gold medal in Athens and to get married and have some kids and a family (with longtime girlfriend Desiree Duran),” said Stanley.

In the next 11 months, Stanley could achieve at least one of his goals at the Olympics next summer. His hard work and dedication are paying off.

“Clay has been successful because he has been willing to make significant sacrifices to achieve his goal,” said Haine. “Leaving Hawaii and his true love, Dez, behind in order to compete at the international level has been a huge deal for Clay, but it didn’t deter him from pursuing his goal. I know he came close a couple of times to changing his mind, but he stayed the course and I’m very proud of him for it.”

And down the road, maybe he can hang his medal next to the surfboard his father bought for him all those years ago.

Copyright Ashton International Media, Inc. Sep 2003

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.