The U.S. Women’s National Volleyball Team, which earned the silver medal at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, is ranked second in the world by the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB). Yet, U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon is not putting a whole lot of stock into the rankings or past medals as he perceives the quadrennial as a process that lasts four years with the Olympic Games being the ranking that matters.
McCutcheon has already learned much about his team that he took over as a coach in December 2008 after leading the U.S. Men’s Olympic Team to the gold medal at the 2008 Olympic Games. He utilized a very young roster in terms of international experience in 2009, and although the 18-14 ledger was a bit disappointing, the year provided vast amounts of experience for the squad. Without leaving any stone untouched, McCutcheon brought in over 50 athletes to train at the USA National Team Center in 2009 and the majority played in at least one international competition.
Team USA earned the silver at the 26th Montreux Volley Masters and the bronze at the IX Pan American Cup in which the team achieved its primary goal of qualifying for the 2011 FIVB World Grand Prix. The U.S. Women’s National Team then surprised the world by claiming the gold medal at the 2010 FIVB World Grand Prix, the premier annual international women’s volleyball event. The Americans accomplished the feat with one player (Destinee Hooker) starting in her first-ever senior level tournament and three other starters who joined the team during the current quadrennial. The young players mixed in well with the veterans to produce the gold medal. Team USA finished the 2010 campaign just off the podium with a fourth-place finish in the 2010 FIVB World Championship.
The U.S. has been in the medal chase in its first two tournaments of 2011, including a fourth-place finish at the Montreux Volley Masters and a bronze finish at the Pan American Cup resulting in qualification to the 2012 FIVB World Grand Prix. McCutcheon used a balance and youth and veteran experience in both tournaments to further the evaluation process in the first year of Olympic qualification. After the FIVB World Grand Prix in August, the U.S. will compete in the NORCECA Women’s Continental Championship from Sept. 10-18, and the event serves as a qualifier into the 2011 FIVB World Cup held in November in Japan. The world cup is the first official Olympic Games qualification event with the top-three teams earning berths to the London Games.
Should the U.S. fail to qualify for the Olympics at the FIVB World Cup, it has two additional chances. The NORCECA Olympic Qualification Tournament is set for Jan. 6-14, 2012, in Mexico, while the World Olympic Qualification Tournament will be held May 19-27 in Japan.
By late 2011, McCutcheon hopes to have settled on a core roster that, with only minor adjustments, can continue training and competing in tournaments together in final preparations for the 2012 Olympic Games. That may be easier said than done with the abundant talent training inside the USA National Team Center in Anaheim, Calif.
- Coaching Staff Full of Gold: Hugh McCutcheon has made the transition from being the U.S. Men’s National Team Coach to the U.S. Women’s National Team Coach. He led the U.S. Olympic Men’s Volleyball Team to the 2008 Olympic Games gold medal in Beijing under extraordinary circumstances including pre-tournament predictions and the death of McCutcheon’s father-in-law the day after the Opening Ceremony. Now McCutcheon has taken the helm of the U.S. Women’s National Team Program with the hopes of building a lasting legacy for the program being gold-medal contenders in each Olympic Games. In addition, McCutcheon hired three-time Olympic Games gold medalist Karch Kiraly to be his assistant. Kiraly was named the International Volleyball Federation’s (FIVB) greatest men’s volleyball player of the sport’s first century after he earned two indoor volleyball gold medals (1984, 1988) and a beach volleyball gold medal (1996).
- Drive for Five Olympics: Danielle Scott-Arrud has had staying power in the sport as one of the best middle blockers in the world. She played in her fourth Olympic Games in Beijing, winning her first medal as Team USA captured the silver medal. Only Tara Cross-Battle has been selected to four U.S. Olympic Women’s Volleyball Team rosters, matched only once on the men’s side by Lloy Ball. If she is selected to the Olympic Games roster, Scott-Arruda will be 39 years old at the time of the London Games – just three months shy of turning 40. Aside from age, she has also taken time off from the team in parts of 2009 and 2010 as she gave birth to her first child in April 2010.
- Another Quad for Four: While Danielle Scott-Arruda is attempting to play in her fifth Olympics, other veterans are seeking their fourth Olympics experience. Outside hitter Logan Tom and middle blocker Heather Bown, still considered among the best in the world, will look toward London as their fourth Olympic Games appearance. Libero Stacy Sykora is also in the mix for 2012, which would be her fourth Olympic Games.
- Young and Old: Making the 2012 Olympic Games roster will be a challenge, whether as a veteran or newcomer. As of July 2011, over 70 players have been in training at the USA National Team Center in Anaheim, Calif., during the quadrennial. Out of the 12-member 2008 Olympic Games silver-medal team, nine are still currently in the mix to earn spots on the 2012 Olympic Games roster along with a 2004 Olympian. However, several new players are pushing the veterans, including middle blockers Foluke Akinradewo and Christa Harmotto; outside hitters Jordan Larson, Megan Hodge and Cynthia Barboza; opposite Destinee Hooker; and setters Alisha Glass, Nellie Spicer and Courtney Thompson. Akinradewo was named the MVP of the premier annual international tournament in 2010 (FIVB World Grand Prix), while Hooker has ranked among the top scorers in both the 2010 FIVB World Grand Prix and the 2010 FIVB World Championships in just her first year of international competition.
- Recovery of Stacy Sykora: Stacy Sykora, the U.S. starting libero at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games, was seriously injured in a bus accident on April 12, 2011, while traveling with her professional club team in Brazil. She was named the Best Libero at the 2012 FIVB World Championship and widely considered back on top of her game. How quickly she recovers or is even able to return to the court may play a factor in the team’s success in the Olympic qualification period. Team USA is not without a top libero in the world as Nicole Davis, who was the starting libero at the 2008 Olympic Games, has stepped back into the top libero position on the team. For more details on her injury and recovery, clickhere.
- Starting Families: Two key members of the 2008 Olympic Games roster have taken time off from the team to start families. Tayyiba Haneef-Park and Danielle Scott-Arruda gave birth to their first children a month apart in March and April of 2010. Both are back in the gym training. Haneef-Park scored a team-high 75 points during the 2011 Montreux Volley Masters event held June 7-12 at Montreux, Switzerland.
- Lindsey Berg
- Heather Bown
- Nicole Davis
- Alisha Glass
- Kim Glass
- Tayyiba Haneef-Park
- Destinee Hooker
- Jordan Larson
- Danielle Scott-Arruda
- Stacy Sykora
- Jennifer Tamas
- Logan Tom
Prior to June 18, 2012, members of the 2012 Olympic Team and replacement players will be recommended by the team head coach to USA Volleyball’s Selection Review Committee. The team will be comprised of 12 athletes. Prior to June 18, 2012, USA Volleyball will submit the final nomination of athletes who will compete in the Olympic Games. The recommendations will be based upon selection criteria and cumulative statistical, videotape, written and observational evaluations created by the coaching staff. USAV’s Selection Review Committee will review the coach’s recommendations and submit nominations for the Olympic Team to the USOC for final approval. For detailed procedures, click here.
- Aug. 5-28, 2011: FIVB World Grand Prix (premier annual women’s international volleyball tournament)
- Sept. 10-18, 2011: NORCECA Continental Championship (qualification to FIVB World Cup)
- Oct. 15-20, 2011: Pan American Games
- Nov. 4-18, 2011: FIVB World Cup (top three teams qualify for 2012 Olympic Games)
- Jan. 6-14, 2012: NORCECA Olympic Qualification Tournament (top team in region tournament qualifies for 2012 Olympic Games)
- May 19-27, 2012: World Olympic Qualification Tournament
- Prior to June 18, 2012: Player Nominations for 2012 Olympic Games submitted for USOC approval