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Olympic dream still rings for Fuerbringer

Volleyball

Estancia product leaves notable beach career for spot on Team USA bench.

June 19, 2013|By Barry Faulkner
(MARK DUSTIN )

But for eight words, Matt Fuerbringer might be a high school basketball coach somewhere, telling stories of a modest college career followed by a brief professional foray overseas.

But those eight words, a recruiting pitch by Tom Pestolesi at Estancia High in the late 1980s, set Fuerbringer on a path that made him a volleyball icon who only recently shifted from player to coach as an assistant with the U.S. men's national volleyball team.

"I had never even played volleyball before and I was doing all this basketball stuff," said Fuerbringer, who starred on Estancia's 1990-91 CIF State Division III basketball championship team, the only state basketball crown ever captured by a Newport-Mesa school. "But Tom Pestolesi, who was the boys' volleyball coach at the time, said: 'If you want, you can be an Olympian."

The words, designed to get the then-6-foot-6 Fuerbringer into Pestolesi's lineup, hit the lanky but athletic Fuerbringer like a jump serve in the chest. They also ignited a confidence and competitive fire that would carry him to an NCAA volleyball title, a five-year professional indoor stint overseas, and a 13-year pro beach volleyball career that produced seven Assn. of Volleyball Professionals tournament titles, four Federation International de Volleyball runner-up finishes, nearly three-quarters of a million dollars in winnings and an ascension to the No. 6 world ranking at age 38 in 2012.

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"[Pestolesi's] words really rang true for me," Fuerbringer, a Hermosa Beach resident, said Tuesday after a national team training session in Anaheim. "For some reason, I really believed it and I thought that was something I could do."

Fuerbringer turned down scholarship offers from mid-major basketball schools to play volleyball at Stanford. Five years later, the four-time All-American led the Cardinal to the 1997 NCAA title. He also left as the school's all-time kill leader, though all those swings took their toll.

Three shoulder surgeries during and after college helped put Fuerbringer out of commission for a run at the 2000 U.S. indoor Olympic team, and later spelled doom to his indoor aspirations in European pro leagues.

He made his beach debut in 1999 and now 6-8, his blend of size and grace helped forge an overall game well-suited to the two-man format. He began playing full time on the beach in 2003 and was AVP Rookie of the Year.

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