Having “Volle” in her name? It’s probably just a coincidence that Julie Vollertsen went on to star in volleyball.
Connecting the sport’s rise in this country to the 1984 Olympics? That’s not as random.
That’s where Vollertsen and her U.S. teammates come in.
In 1976, Vollertsen led Palmyra to its first state tournament, earning all-state honors. The year before, the volleyball program at Nebraska began.
But Vollertsen went straight from her senior year of high school to the national team, playing first for the junior squad. She was named an alternate on the 1980 Olympic team, but the U.S. boycotted the Moscow Games that year.
After helping the Americans win bronze at the 1982 world championships, Vollertsen was part of a breakthrough for Team USA.
The women won silver at the 1984 Los Angeles Games — the first Olympic medal in volleyball for the U.S. The men won gold that year, too, led by a 23-year-old Karch Kiraly.
“We achieved a lot in the four years that we trained for the ’84 team,” Vollertsen said. “The team never had a national program or never had an official national team. I believe that we started history for volleyball at that time.”
And the 1994 inductee into the Nebraska High School Hall of Fame may not be the best athlete in her household, either.
After seven years with the national team, the right-side hitter played pro volleyball for several years in Italy. She got into coaching there, too. It’s also where she met her husband, Leopoldo Melli, in the small city of Reggio Emilia.
The couple had two sons. They, too, share Olympic aspirations — in basketball.
The eldest, Nicolo Melli, plays in the Euroleague for Italy’s Olimpia Milano. The 24-year-old is also a member of the Italian national team.
Injuries have slowed Enrico Melli, four years younger than Nicolo, but he has played for Olimpia Milano, too.
The 6-foot-9 Nicolo appreciates his mother’s accomplishments, both for her sport and gender.
“Back then, it was hard for women to reach certain goals,” he said in a 2013 interview with Euroleague.net. “As an athlete, she was incredible, determined; she would go straight to her goal. She is still incredible like that. That helped me.”
Played for: Palmyra High, U.S. junior national team, U.S. national team, Nelson Reggio Emilia pro team
Best moment as an athlete: Playing in front of her family in Iowa City during a tour in 1982. "It was a difficult situation for me. Sometimes I would start, and sometimes I didn't play. That night was just like magic for me. I remember playing so well."
Vollertsen was No. 29 in the inaugural Nebraska 100 list in 2005. See more about the 2005 list »