By John Grennan
When millions of sports-crazed Britons pack arenas and tune in tellies for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, former Gael Stacey O’Connor ’05 (circled above) hopes to give them reason to cheer.
A Belfast-born member of the British women’s national volleyball team, O’Connor wants to see the Union Jack hoisted after her team takes the medal stand. If it happens, it won’t be because O’Connor has traveled a traditional British path to Olympic glory.
Britain, which has never fielded an Olympic volleyball team, hopes to change that in 2012 by qualifying for the London games. O’Connor, whose family moved to California when she was a child, is bringing four years of NCAA volleyball experience at SMC to the British squad.
“The team was formed in the past year or two,” O’Connor says from her home in Sheffield, England. “I’m proud to be part of the British team and represent the place (Northern Ireland) where I’m originally from.”
When the team plays in qualifying matches, O’Connor will return to the pressure-packed playoff environment she had at Saint Mary’s. She was a leader on the team that advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2004. The Gaels defeated local volleyball juggernaut Cal in the process, coming back in five sets to beat the Golden Bears in Berkeley.
“To win on Cal’s home court, with support from family, friends and the Gael Force members that came over in the party bus, was amazing,” O’Connor remembers.
Teammates say O’Connor helped build Saint Mary’s into a contender after the Gaels went 5–20 in her first season.
“Stacey is a fierce competitor and very hard worker,” says Lindsey Bogason ’05. “She’s also a very loyal teammate.”
After graduation, O’Connor traveled to Prague for a European professional league tryout and earned a spot with the Chemnitz Fighting Kangaroos in the German league. For two seasons, she and her teammates saw much of the German countryside as they traveled by bus to matches in cities such as Stuttgart and Nuremberg.
While the travel was exciting, the home games were even more exhilarating. “My team had the best fan base in the league,” she says. “We would have 500 fans filling our gym, banging large drums and chanting.”
Volleyball has been O’Connor’s ticket to all kinds of travel — most recently with the British team to Russia and Kazakhstan. But even on the road she keeps tabs on Gael volleyball.
“I’m always on the Internet keeping track of the season and postseason,” she says. “They’re a young team with great potential.”
O’Connor has thought about returning to the Bay Area for graduate school and a career in teaching or coaching, but she’s focused on playing volleyball and making the London Olympics.
“I’m living my dream,” O’Connor says.