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Elisabeth Bachman, member of the U.S. National Volleyball team. Former Lakeville High School star.

Feed Loader, Star Tribune

1995: Elizabeth "Wiz" Bachman a senior at Lakeville High school in the metro volleyball player of the year.

Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

Family to family, grieving U.S. players lift up 'Wiz'

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN
  • Star Tribune
  • August 10, 2008 - 12:17 AM

BEIJING - You worry so much as a parent, worry about everything from terrorism to tetanus, and if your kid plays sports, you fret even more.

You worry about coaches and playing time, grips and their grip, and one day, if you're lucky, you see them do something they couldn't do the day before, and the hours and expenses suddenly seem like they could fit in one of those take-a-penny bowls.

You drive 'em all over the state, and if they have talent, you fly all over the country, and if they're Olympic material there is no place you wouldn't lead or follow.

The Bachmans had such a kid. An Olympian. Think of that -- one of those little kids at the local youth clinic in Lakeville became an Olympian.

Elisabeth (Wiz) Bachman left her home state to play volleyball for UCLA, then made the national team and played for the United States in the 2004 Olympics, and parents Todd and Barbara followed her the way some people follow "Lost."

The Bachmans, Lakeville residents, followed her to Beijing, even though she didn't make the 2008 Olympic team. Wiz married Hugh McCutcheon, now coaching the U.S. men's team, and that was reason enough for Todd, the president and CEO of Bachman's Inc., the famed Twin Cities plant and flower store, to watch volleyball in yet another country.

The Bachmans were planning to see Wiz's old team, the U.S. women's squad, play Japan on Saturday night in Beijing. Wiz even e-mailed her old teammates, wishing them luck and saying she'd see them at the arena.

This left time for sightseeing, so the Bachmans visited a tourist site called the Drum Tower, and a man with a knife, for no apparent reason, killed Todd and grievously injured Barbara. Then the man jumped to his death.

Elisabeth reportedly was uninjured.

The volleyball went on.

Former Gophers star Nicole Branagh, playing her first Olympic match, teamed with Elaine Youngs to beat the Netherlands in the beach competition. Nobody told her what had happened to her friend Wiz, so Branagh had no excuse not to play with fire and nerve, and she did, dominating at the net.

After the final point she flexed her sandy, sweaty arms and pointed to her parents, Tom and Diane, in the stands. They, and their friends, were wearing blue shirts that read: "I (heart) NB."

Minutes later, Branagh heard the news and was seen sobbing. She played on the national team with Wiz. She was too distraught to talk.

Even before Branagh took to the sand, the women's indoor volleyball players were shaken from their pregame naps and given the news. They wept and prayed, then took the court and beat Japan.

They celebrated the victory with tears in their eyes, even as the crowd chanted "U-S-A!''

"There are some things you think would never happen," said Heather Bown of the U.S. team. "Today was one of those things. We got an e-mail from Wiz this morning saying she was looking forward to coming to the match. She said she'd be here."

U.S. player Stacy Sykora, in an interview after her team's victory, began choking up immediately when asked about the Bachmans. She was Elisabeth's roommate during the 2004 Olympics.

"Wiz is someone we hold close to us," Sykora said. "This game was completely dedicated to Wiz Bachman and her family ...

"You have to understand what Wiz Bachman means to USA volleyball. She is like the nicest person in the world. She is in our family. So her family is like our family, because they traveled with us and she fought in the 2004 Olympics with us, and she was my roommate."

Of Todd Bachman, Sykora said: "He was a great man. There aren't one or two memories, there are a million. I could go on for days. Unbelievable family."

A long time ago the Bachmans handed their daughter a volleyball, and dreamed.

Who knew where this might lead?

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. • jsouhan@startribune.com.

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