Olympic gold medalists team again to call Women’s NCAA Volleyball Championship for ESPN

As close as we were as teammates, when you work together, you spend a lot of time together on the road. It’ll be fabulous to do this with him, especially after covering his team at the Rio Olympics. – Paul Sunderland on Karch Kiraly, who coached the U.S. women volleyball team in the 2016 Rio Games

Volleyball play-by-play commentator Paul Sunderland and analyst Karch Kiraly are no strangers to high-level competition.

Each had a storied career as a player; at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, they also were teammates on the United States’ gold medal-winning 1984 men’s volleyball team (see photo above).

Sunderland and Kiraly will team again to call the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship, along with reporter Holly Rowe, tonight (7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., ESPN) and Saturday, Dec. 17 (9 p.m., ESPN2) from Columbus, Ohio. Stanford plays Minnesota in the opening semifinal tonight; Texas meets defending champion Nebraska in the nightcap.

Sunderland and Kiraly fine-tuned their chemistry working together during an NCAA Regional Final in Lincoln, Neb., last week where host Nebraska claimed a Final Four berth.

Sunderland, a three-time U.S. player of the year, is making his return to the volleyball telecast. He hasn’t called a national championship since 1988.

“Anytime I can spend a day with Karch is good by me,” said Sunderland, who played basketball and volleyball at Loyola Marymount after two years at Oregon. “At the time we were [Olympic] teammates, I was nine years older and a father. When practice was over, I went to work, and Karch went to the beach. I was a little jealous, but it was all good.”

As Kiraly’s USA Volleyball bio reads, the former UCLA star is considered “arguably the best athlete to ever play beach volleyball and shared the same greatness indoors.”

Said Sunderland: “I retired from playing and began working in television, and [Kiraly] continued to achieve what I think is the greatest career as a volleyball player. Things sort of came full circle, and he and I were able to reconnect at a different time of our lives. We started working together quite a bit around 2007. As close as we were as teammates, when you work together, you spend a lot of time together on the road.”

He was a pro as a player back then, and he’s the consummate pro now as a play-by-play announcer – Karch Kiraly on Paul Sunderland

He added: “It’ll be fabulous to do this with him, especially after covering his team at the Rio Olympics.”

Kiraly served as the head coach of the U.S. women’s national volleyball team that participated in the Rio Olympics this past summer. His team’s matchups were called by Sunderland.

“Paul and I are very good friends and have stayed in touch since we were teammates many years ago,” said Kiraly. “He was a pro as a player back then, and he’s the consummate pro now as a play-by-play announcer.”

The duo achieved the sport’s ultimate prize of winning a gold medal during their time as players and teammates, and are both looking forward to watching teams battle for an NCAA championship.

“This is the Olympics of college volleyball,” Kiraly said. “There’s nothing like seeing a new champion go out and fight through adversity to grab the crown.”