Part player, part mentor, Danielle Scott-Arruda may be U.S. volleyball’s not-so-secret weapon

LOS ANGELES — These days everybody wants a piece of Danielle Scott-Arruda. The 39-year-old U.S. women's volleyball national team member is giving more interviews than smacking volleyballs, but that comes with the territory of making her fifth Olympic team.

She's heard all the questions multiple times before but promises she mixes up her answers so as not to feel too rehearsed. Not that all that extra practice is a bad thing — she is giving a master's course in staying power. When Scott-Arruda checked in midway through the third set of Team USA's sweep (25-18, 25-17, 25-19) of Bulgaria on Wednesday night at USC's Galen Center, a small smattering of cheers went up from the crowd.

It was her lone appearance during the three-match series which is the last time Team USA will have competed before the London Games and the fans who know Scott-Arruda's significance were showing their respect. Afterward, before she could even stretch to cool down, a large group of friends, family and well-wishers crowded the barrier behind Team USA's bench to take photos with her. She politely granted each and every request.

"This is really more about Team USA and these 12 girls than myself," Scott-Arruda said. "No one is out to be the star."

Despite her best efforts to do so, it would be hard to understate the Baton Rouge, La., native's significance to the women's national team. Scott-Arruda has played well over 400 matches with the national team since joining in 1994 fresh off a stellar collegiate career at Long Beach State. The U.S. finished a disappointing seventh in her first Olympic appearance in 1996 in Atlanta after a bronze medal in 1992. The Americans were fourth in Sydney in 2000 and fifth in Athens in 2004 before returning to prominence with a silver medal in Beijing four years ago. Team USA enters the London Games ranked No. 1 in the world.

[ Photos: Meet the U.S. women's volleyball team ]

"I love what I do and have been blessed with good health," Scott-Arruda said. "I still have a lot of energy."

That energy was apparent during the Bulgaria Challenge series as she passed the time on the bench jumping rope, swaying back and forth, rolling her shoulders or offering pointers to teammates. That last part is key, with seven members of the team making their first Olympic appearances. The next most experienced Olympian is outside hitter Logan Tom, making her fourth appearance, followed by setter Lindsey Berg, making her third.

"Dani brings us a sense of calm," said outside hitter Megan Hodge, 23, one of the Olympic rookies. "She's always even-keel; she's kind of like a mom-ish older sister."

Hodge was named Most Valuable Player of the FIVB World Grand Prix, a premier yearly tournament which the Americans won for the third straight year on July 1. Hodge, a Penn State alumna, played much of that tournament at the front line next to Scott-Arruda.

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Coach Hugh McCutcheon selected her over several younger players at a position — middle blocker — that relies heavily on lateral movement and explosive leaping ability. Both were evident on Wednesday night, but she played so sparingly that she only registered one swing, which was dug out by Bulgaria. McCutcheon hinted at more court time for her in London.

"She's here to play volleyball," McCutcheon said. "The rest is gravy — but it's good gravy. She brings a lot of contextual knowledge so she's effective [on the court] and in mentoring our younger players."

Another of Team USA's up-and-coming young guns, right-side hitter Destinee Hooker, 24, has also looked to Scott-Arruda for guidance.

"We can't do it without her," Hooker said.

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