September 11, 2019

After Getting First Taste of International Action, PU Volleyball Star Dixon Primed for Senior Year

WORLD VIEW: Princeton University men’s volleyball star Parker Dixon (No. 22) tracks the ball in a game last season. Over the summer, rising senior Dixon competed for USA Volleyball at the World University Games in Naples, Italy. (Photo provided courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

By Justin Feil

Parker Dixon is returning to Princeton University this fall with his first international volleyball experience.

The senior from Dallas, Texas was selected as one of 12 players to compete for USA Volleyball at the World University Games in Naples, Italy.

“It was a huge honor to be selected to this team,” said Dixon, the outside hitter who led the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (EIVA) in total attacks last year.

“There are a lot of great players around the country and to be selected as one of the ones to be able to represent the U.S. in this type of event is a huge honor. I was really excited to get that chance to go and put a USA jersey on and play.”

Dixon and Team USA didn’t have a lot of time together in preparation, but still went 2-2 in the 30th year of the University Games that were hosted by Italy in July. The U.S. finished third in Group B.

“Overall we were kind of disappointed with the result,” said Dixon. “There are reasons we could not have played as well as we should have, but at the end of the day that doesn’t really matter. It’s just how we played on the court on the day of the match. A couple things here and there didn’t go our way. We weren’t necessarily happy with how we played, but I still enjoyed the experience of going.”

In March, Dixon found out that he had been selected for the U.S. squad. He and Brett Wildman, a sophomore at Penn State, were the lone players chosen out of the EIVA.

“At the beginning of the two weeks that we were there, our coach gave us some insight on the roster,” said Dixon.

“He said he wanted to balance it out and get players from all the different conferences across the country. Everything was pretty well represented. I definitely took some pride in representing Princeton and our conference, and so did the other guy, I think.”

The team assembled and flew to Italy where they had just a couple of practices before beginning the University Games. The U.S. opened with a 3-2 win over Korea and then defeated China 3-2 before falling to Russia and Portugal by 3-0 counts. In the quarterfinals, the U.S. lost 3-0 to Switzerland and concluded their showing with a 3-1 loss to Chile and a 3-0 loss to Argentina. Their inexperience together was hard to overcome.

“We didn’t prepare at all,” said Dixon. “We just showed up in Italy, had a practice or two when we were there, and then we were just thrown into the fire. We went right into competition. All the other countries had been practicing with that group for a couple days if not weeks. We used a different type of ball than the NCAA uses. It moves a lot differently than the NCAA one does. It was a challenge to adjust.”

It was also an adjustment in the level of play as the international game was an eye-opener.

“Overall the level was pretty high,” said Dixon. “Our coach told us the Russian team we played had three kids who were going to be on the Olympic roster next year so they were very, very good. He told us one of those three would actually be a starter. The biggest thing I noticed comparing it to a normal NCAA match, in order to earn points and get kills, you had to be aggressive. In college, you can get away with tips and some sneaky stuff like that. But at the World University Games, all that stuff would just get eaten up by the other teams. They would see a tip as a free ball and get it and convert it into a kill and smash it back down in your face. Everything else was somewhat comparable to the top NCAA teams — serving and hitting and things like that.”

The U.S. team used its roster fairly equally so Dixon got more playing time than he anticipated. He hopes to incorporate the lessons from international play into his final college season.

“I can take the whole experience, defensive intensity and mindset,” said Dixon. “It’s a pretty different game. In this one, the passing goal was just to get it where the setter could set the two pins. Getting a high ball swing would almost be considered a success because the serving was pretty tough. Whereas in an NCAA game, we’re trying to pass where we can run all three options and make it a perfect pass every time. What I’m looking forward to taking back the most is not seeing a bad pass as a failure. It’s still an opportunity to kill the ball and take aggressive out of system swings and get kills that way. That’s a viable way to win. That’s what all the best teams do there. Hopefully I can bring that back to the Princeton gym this fall.”

The Tigers are coming off a landmark season. After a slow start, they finished 18-13 overall, posting the second-most wins in program history and capturing their second EIVA Championship and first since 1998. Princeton nearly knocked off Pepperdine in the NCAA quarterfinals after topping Barton 3-1 in the first round.

“We’ll start preseason practice a few weeks into school, let the freshmen get acclimated to being in college, being at a very tough school, and let them get their feet on the ground before we start running up all the volleyball stuff and taking up all their time,” said Dixon.

“We have some good guys coming back and a really good class of freshmen coming in. If we could start working hard from the beginning of the season, we could do some really special things later on once the actual season rolls around. The preseason is the time to work on all that stuff, to get everyone’s rust shaken off and really start to figure out what’s going to work for us in terms of lineups and mentality. I feel like in the past couple years, we haven’t really figured that out until midway through the season almost. We don’t win a lot of games in the early part of the year.”

Last winter, Dixon was a big part of Princeton’s success. The honorable mention All-America and first-team All-EIVA player had 368 kills. He ranked in the top 10 in kills, kills per set, hitting percentage, points and points per set. He will be counted on for more leadership as a senior.

“There’s absolutely a lot more responsibility,” said Dixon. “There’s nobody else to look up to now. I’m the one that everyone else is going to look up to. It is a little pressure but I think I can definitely handle it and be a good senior for the other guys to look up to and lead the team and get it done.”

Dixon’s teammates were thrilled that he was selected for Team USA as he had been through the U-19 national training camp before, but had not been selected. His play over the last couple of years at Princeton had helped earn him consideration and ultimately selection.

“On this team, the World University Games team, there was one guy who just finished his freshman year and there was a guy who graduated a year ago,” said Dixon.

“It was a bigger variety of age than the junior team which was just freshmen and sophomores in college. If you look at it that way, there would be some improvement there because there’s a larger pool of players to choose from.”

Dixon’s role with Team USA was different than with Princeton. It was a big change from what he’s become accustomed to with the Tigers, but he adjusted well to helping the national team any way possible.

“On the U.S. team, I could — not take more of a backseat — but everybody was very, very good and are used to being leaders on their own team,” explained Dixon.

“On the Princeton team, I feel like I play a bigger role in terms of productivity. On the U.S. team, I wasn’t playing as much as I would play on the Princeton team so my role there was one of encouragement and supporting my teammates who were playing, not really feeling bad about myself for not playing, but accepting that other guys are good at volleyball too and they can get kills and do good things too and I can encourage them and hype them up and make them play better. And if I do get the chance to play, go out and give it all I’ve got and don’t be sulking in the corner and all that stuff.”

Dixon’s selection was a vote of confidence in his play. He will be working toward finishing his degree in operations research and financial engineering, but could delay using his degree if he tries to play volleyball professionally.

“That team was important to the rest of my volleyball career,” said Dixon.

“All the other guys there are trying to play pro and they’re talking to agents and doing all that. I’m not exactly sure I want to go down that path yet. I would say it’s a very good stepping stone toward a pro career if I do go down that path.”

In addition to taking advantage of a chance to see another level of volleyball on the international trip, Dixon also had a little time to do some sightseeing with the team. They saw plenty of Italian countryside on their way to games, traveled by ferry between other destinations, took a day trip to Pompeii and went to Naples for the Opening Ceremonies.

“I’m extremely glad that I had the chance to go,” said Dixon. “It was a lot of fun to play volleyball at a very high level and be in Italy with a really fun group of guys from all over the country and get to know them and get away from my normal summer life. All in all, I was very happy to be able to go.”