Danielle Scott-Arruda, 39, is bidding to become one of a select few women to compete in volleyball in five consecutive Olympic Games. (Brazil's Hélia Rogério de Souza and Russia's Yevgeniya Artamonova-Estes are the others.) In 2008, the middle blocker helped lead the Americans to a silver medal, the team's first podium appearance since 1992.
Scott-Arruda took time off last year after the birth of her daughter, Julianne, in April. She began training again a scant four weeks later and said she never considered leaving the game. Scott-Arruda rejoined the program in the fall of 2010 and made the roster for last month's World Cup, where the team (she said the squad is perhaps the deepest she's played for) qualified for London by finishing second to host Japan.
"Having red, white and blue on my back is what motivates me," she told reporters on a conference call Monday.
Here are more excerpts:
• On playing for coach Hugh McCutcheon, who guided the U.S. men's team to Olympic gold in 2008 just days after his father-in-law was killed and mother-in-law seriously injured in a random attack early in the Beijing Games:
"It was quite a thrill to hear that he was now going to coach the women's team after he did such a good job with the men's team in getting a gold. I'm like, 'I hope we can get some of that.' ... I think he just makes sure the team is thinking about 'team' and how we can make the team better. It seems simple, but it's just a philosophy that everyone has to buy into, that you get out of 'self' and think more about 'team,' and beyond that, he adds a lot of feedback and a concept of how he likes things done, different ways he can make each player a little bit better.
"Even going for my fifth Olympics, I'm still working on little things that I can get better [at] that make the team better. He has a staff that's really well known in the sport. ... I just have to really say hats off to him [for his coaching job under difficult circumstances in 2008]. He was quite the husband and person of comfort for not only his team but for his wife during that period. With difficulty, you have to try to find some good and strength out of it, and I think he's done a good job doing that and just preparing the team for the next phase."
• On whether she expects the medal contenders to be the "usual suspects" of Brazil, Cuba, Russia and China, and how her seven years' experience playing for clubs in Brazil, where U.S. teammates Destinee Hooker and Stacy Sykora also play, may provide insight on how to beat the defending gold medalists:
"At any point, anyone can be a contender. ... Sometimes it comes down to who can make the least errors and be most efficient in the game. Germany has had a good season this year, and teams that have done well in the past that we didn't see at the World Cup are Azerbaijan, even Turkey and Serbia. The top-ranked teams can just change by a matter of points, so we just have to focus on playing our best game and be prepared for the other teams, making sure our game is crisp.
"[Playing club ball in Brazil], you do get to learn more of their tendencies. ... I'm working on making myself better so I can make good reads and get in good spots for attack, and serving tough, and just being an all-around player -- and that's going to make you successful against all the other teams. ... I haven't signed a contract yet, but looks like I will return there for this season."
• On being a new mother:
"Being a mom is so wonderful. After a hard day's training, coming home and seeing her smile, running with her long arms toward me and jumping up saying 'Hold me' ... having her and wanting her to know, even though she's so young, that I was able to come back to volleyball and play at a high level and hopefully have her see me play at a high level has been a motivation for me.
"The fact that my mom is retired and can take care of her and they're able to travel with me allows me to train and not worry about who's caring for her or whatnot. It's been a great journey, and I hope to be a good example for her and for others -- that even being older and having a child, dreams and aspirations are still attainable when you work hard and believe in yourself and other people believe in you, as well."
• On her longevity in the sport:
"I had no idea that I would continue playing this long, or even starting out that I would get a scholarship to play volleyball [at Long Beach State University] and then have the opportunity to make the national team and go to an Olympics, or have such an incredible career.
"Coming out of college, I played multiple sports. I got a fifth year in basketball but chose to go to the [volleyball] national team. It was, 'Come to the national team or don't come at all.' So, of course I went to the national team. It was a great decision, and I thank [former U.S. women's coach] Terry Liskevych for giving me the opportunity. ... I still have that spirit and passion of a rookie, but I've gained a lot of experience along the way, which I think just adds to my game.
"I'm just so excited to step on the court; when I got my jerseys this summer and had my first opportunity in the World Cup to put it on, I was taking pictures. ... I wish it wouldn't end, but eventually, of course, I will have to hang up my shoes, put them up in the closet on the shelf. Until then, I'm going to enjoy the process. I've been really blessed to physically be able to do it, and mentally I just enjoy the game."