Teee Williams is a savvy veteran
of the U.S. women's volleyball team.
Photo courtesy USAVolleyball
Tonya "Teee" Williams should have majored in sports medicine, instead of communications, while at the University of Hawaii. She has literally been hurt from head to toe, the latter injury which brought new meaning to the term "break dancing."
Last month, it was her back, a strain that kept Williams out of the U.S. starting lineup in the BVC Cup in Montreaux, Switzerland. It's going to take a lot more than that to keep the outside hitter from being on the Omni Coliseum court in Atlanta beginning July 20.
"I really want a gold medal and I'm going to do everything I can to get one," said Williams, a three-time All-American for the Wahine (1987-89). "I'm just hoping and praying that, when it comes Olympic time, I don't throw my back out again. It just seems that every time I'm playing well, I get injured."
When Williams is healthy, it's the opposing team that ends up hurting. At 5-foot-11, Williams has a jackrabbit jump and deceptive hang time that fools savvy international blocks. her slingshot swing shreds what's left of the defense.
"Teee's been great for us," said U.S. Olympic coach Terry Liskevych, who'll step down after these Games. "There's been no doubt that, when she's in the lineup, she's been our go-to person."
Liskevych speaks of a new-found maturity he has seen in Williams. She has aged gracefully, easing into a leadership role on the American team.
"Everyone is excited about going to the Olympics," said Williams, a member of the U.S. team that took the bronze in Barcelona. "There's more pressure and more stress on us because we're home. Our younger players are terrified, not knowing what to expect. The rest of us, the older players, are more mellow about it. We've been there."
There are days when Williams wakes up, surprised to be on the U.S. team. Going to the Olympics was never a childhood dream. she began thinking about it around the time she was named the 1987 NCAA Player of the Year.
"It's a great privilege for me, being an Olympian," she said. "But I never thought about it until after my first year at Hawaii. I don't ever remember saying when I was young, 'Oh, I want to be in the Olympics.'
"I grew up being active and athletic but I never thought I'd be at this level. If there was a chance I'd get this far, I thought it might be in basketball or track. I liked the high jump but they kept trying to make me run the sprints."
Williams used sports to run away from trouble when she was growing up in Long Beach, Calif.
"I could have easily been in a gang," said the 1986 Lakewood High Athlete of the Year. "Sports helped me stay safe and away from all that.
"I could have easily become pregnant at 13 or 16. I go back and my friends are like that, all with babies and nothing going for themselves. I wanted something more."
Williams found it in volleyball, from an NCAA championship in 1987 to a $60,000 pro contract in Europe. A gold medal would be the perfect way to start her aloha tour in the sport. she'll play for the U.S. through the Women's World Grand Prix in September, then plans on a few years in Italy with Matera, the defending European club champion.
After that? Williams is ready to settle down and have a family.
Her marriage to an Army soldier before her senior year at UH ended in divorce. She is seriously dating Drazen Slacanin, a Croatian she met in Germany.
"I don't know what I'll end up doing, broadcasting, coaching," she said. "I'd like to work with kids that don't have a lot of money. I'd like to come back to Hawaii, hold a camp and not charge for kids who can't pay. Kids like that need to have something."
Williams leaves for Atlanta Sunday. She's hoping that her medical problems don't make the trip.
"The Olympics are going to be exciting for me because my family gets to come and watch," she said. "It's exciting because it's here in the States and we finally get the home crowd cheering for us. We're finally not the underdogs and I feel good about our chances.
"We feel we should win the gold. We've beaten the Cubans and Brazilians in big tournaments so we know it's possible."
All the aches and pains have been worth it, said Williams. Just the thought of being on the top step of the awards platform, with a gold medal around her neck, gives her goose bumps.
"I'm proud to be an Olympian," said Williams, who plans on painting an American flag on the back of her head. "You're playing for your country and yourself. It's a team thing and an individual thing, too.
"How many people can say they've done this? How many people get to represent their country while the whole world watches?"
Hometown: Long Beach, Calif.
Education: University of Hawaii.
Event: Indoor volleyball, outside hitter.
Olympic history: Second Olympic team. Bronze, 1992 Barcelona Games (62 kills in six starts).
International: Originally joined U.S. team in 1990 . . . Gold, 1995 World Grand Prix . . . Gold, 1995 Canada Cup . . . Silver, 1995 Pan American Games . . . Bronze, 1992 FIVB Super Four . . . Bronze, 1990 World Championships . . . 1994 World Championship, 1994 World Grand Prix, 1994 FIVB Grand Champions Cup, 1991 World Cup, 1990 Goodwill Games.
National: Three-time all-American and All-Big West (1987-89) . . . Two-time NCAA Division I Player of the Year (1987, co-player 1989) . . . Helped Hawaii to 1987 national title, 1988 national runner-up spot . . . Gold, 1985 Olympic Festival; silver, 1986 Olympic Festival . . . All-Rookie Team 1987 USVBA nationals.
Pro: Played for teams in Germany (1993-94) and Italy (1992-93, 1996-).
Notable: Selected to NCAA 1980s All-Decade Team . . . Holds three UH career records: kills (1,873), kill average (5.35) and dig average (3.27), second in career digs (1,143) . . . Her 5.87 kpg average in 1989 ranks fourth among all-time NCAA career leaders . . . Hawaii Wahine were 99-8 during her three-year career . . . 1986 Lakewood (Calif.) Athlete of Year . . . Inducted into Lakewood Hall of Fame.