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.