With sights set on 2028 Olympics, Anna Dodson trains with national volleyball team
Rising redshirt senior Anna Dodson celebrates. After finishing the season as the team’s most efficient attacker and an All-Pac-12 selection, the middle blocker was named to the 2023 Women’s Collegiate National Team, training alongside the senior Women’s National Team in their preparation for Volleyball Nations League. (David Rimer/Daily Bruin senior staff)
By Ira Gorawara
July 29, 2023 4:55 p.m.
This post was updated Aug. 6 at 9:17 p.m.
Most collegiate athletes aspire to grace the court alongside the pros.
And among UCLA women’s volleyball’s squad, it was its sole All-Pac-12 selection who was called up: Anna Dodson. As one of only four Pac-12 athletes chosen, the rising redshirt senior was named to the 2023 U.S. Women’s Collegiate National Team, training alongside the senior women’s national team.
WCNT coach Michelle Chatman-Smith recognized the value of training with the 2020 Tokyo Olympic champions.
“They (The collegiate players) were able to feel the intensity of the gym,” Chatman-Smith said. “They were able to see the inner dynamics of how the team trains at that level in tough competition. We were able to replicate some of the things the women’s national team was doing.”
The women’s national team chaperones the decision-making process for the collegiate squad, handpicking up-and-coming talents they want to keep tabs on, Chatman-Smith said.
The pros staked out Dodson after she secured a team-high .330 hitting clip on the 2022 season. Entering the season with just seven double-digit kill contests under her belt, the middle blocker almost doubled that tally in just one season. Dodson posted double-digit kills in 13 matches, including nine in the final 11 regular-season games.
“Anna is a very elite player,” Chatman-Smith said. “She executes her skill at a very high level and is very dedicated to her craft. The questions she asked and how focused she was in trying to just get 1% better every day was refreshing.”
As one of the most promising collegiate volleyball players in the nation, Dodson was granted the unique opportunity to observe and practice with the country’s most elite athletes.
Dodson’s middle blocking counterparts on the national squad saw the likes of two-time national champion Madeleine Gates, Pan American Cup Gold winner Brionne Butler and the first-ever five-time AVCA All-American Dana Rettke.
Dodson noted the value of playing and learning amid remarkable talent.
“Blocking was super different to experience with a lot of bigger pins,” Dodson said. “Connecting with other people in my position was a great opportunity to see what each other are doing and take that and implement it in our game was a super cool experience.”
Training with the national squad served a dual purpose as they prepared for the final round of pool play at the Volleyball Nations League. A 3-2 decision in the consolation game against Poland ended the Americans’ campaign, landing them fourth overall.
Dodson said the chance to watch the national team train for an international tournament was critical as she begins her final year at UCLA and strives to make her international debut.
“Being able to see that in real life, face-to-face, keeps firing me up and makes me more excited back to my team,” Dodson said. “It creates even more drive for my vision.”
As Dodson and the Bruins flip the page to a new chapter with first-year coach Alfee Reft at the helm, the Colorado local said she looks to further solidify her defensive game. Dodson has showcased her versatility as a middle blocker, achieving 259 kills across the season but also tripling her 2021 total of 25 digs with 76 to close last season.
And to add the finishing touch to the Dodson package, Chatman-Smith acknowledged Dodson as a natural leader on the court.
“Anna’s leadership is impeccable,” Chatman-Smith said. “She has a great ability to compete at a high level and does a really good job of bringing up the play around her where people want to play with and for her. And that’s no easy feat, but Anna makes it look like it is.”
Hoping to land at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics, this experience has given Dodson the map to guide her voyage.
“I want to make the 2028 games,” Dodson said. “Seeing the grit and scrappiness but at the same time the joy and the competitiveness is something I’m trying to embody every day on the court.”