ANAHEIM, Calif. (July 12, 2006)
- After a five-year absence, the U.S. Men's National Team returns to play in the FIVB World League this weekend in Salt Lake City, Utah, with a lot of excitement and a little apprehension.
Team USA goes into its matches against Poland on Friday and Saturday (July 14 and 15 at 7 p.m. MDT both days) at the "E" Center ranked fifth in the world and ready to see if it can live up to the ranking in one of the toughest and most grueling competitions in men's volleyball.
"We can go to as many Pan Am Cups and international tours as you like," said U.S. middle blocker Ryan Millar (Palmdale, Calif.). "But to improve, we really need to play teams like Serbia & Montenegro, which is ranked third in the world, and Poland, which is eighth. These are important matches to get ready for the World Championships (in 2006), the World Cup next year and the Olympics in 2008."
The Salt Lake City matches will be a homecoming of sorts for Millar, who played at Brigham Young University from 1996-99 and still has family members and a house in nearby Provo. U.S. libero Rich Lambourne (Tustin, Calif.) also played at BYU from 1997-99.
Following the matches against Poland in Salt Lake City, the U.S. men's team will play two World League matches every weekend from July 21-Aug. 19 in the United States and in the other countries. Japan and Serbia & Montenegro are also in Pool A with the United States and Poland. Japan will host Serbia & Montenegro on July 15-16 in the other Pool A match-up. All matches played in the United States will be shown live on CSTV.
The winner from each of the four pools will advance to the finals on Sep. 22-28 in Russia.
"One of the great things about World League is you get six weekends of competitive matches to focus your team," said U.S. Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon (Christchurch, New Zealand). "That's very exciting for us. A couple weekends into this thing, we will start hitting our stride."
After moving their training base from Colorado Springs, Colo., to Anaheim, Calif., in April, the U.S. men opened the season by winning the inaugural NORCECA Pan American Cup in Mexico. Team USA won four straight matches against Panama, Cuba, Canada and the Dominican Republic and only lost three sets throughout the event.
On June 19-29, the U.S. men's team traveled to Argentina for a best-of-five series against Argentina's men's national team, which was also preparing for FIVB World League play. After losing the first match 1-3, the U.S. team came back to win the next four matches and dropped only one more set.
The U.S. team achieved these victories without two of its top players: middle blocker Tom Hoff (Park Ridge, Ill.) and opposite Clay Stanley (Honolulu, Hawaii), both of whom were playing for the Iraklis club team in Greece. The two did not get back with the team until June.
"We have had a staggered formation of our group, mainly due to the length of some of the European seasons," McCutcheon said. "We finally have all of our guys, but we haven't had a lot of time to play together. I think we're playing well. But we're not playing as well as we are capable of."
The United States hopes playing in its home country to open World League will be an advantage as it knows Poland is a top contender. Poland reached the semifinals of the 2005 World League, but ended up finishing fourth after losing in five sets each to Serbia & Montenegro and Cuba.
"We know they are a good volleyball team and we expect them to play us hard," McCutcheon said. "They are a very good serving and attacking team."
And there will be no rest for the weary after Saturday's match. The U.S. men will return to Anaheim on Sunday morning and leave again on Wednesday for their matches in Hiroshima, Japan.
For more U.S. World League information, go to http://www.usavolleyball.org/National/06worldLeague.asp
The FIVB World League web site is http://www.fivb.org/EN/Volleyball/Competitions/WorldLeague/2006/
Poland at USA
July 14-15, 2006
Salt Lake City, Utah
(Twelve-man rosters can be updated between World League weekends)
2 Pieter Olree (OH, Reading, Pa.)
3 Jim Polster (OH, Laguna Niguel, Calif.)
5 Rich Lambourne (L, Tustin, Calif.)
6 Phil Eatherton (MB, Glencoe, Mo.)
7 Donald Suxho (S, Korce, Albania)
8 Reid Priddy (OH, Richmond, Va.)
9 Ryan Millar (MB, Palmdale, Calif.)
11 Brook Billings (OPP, Santa Barbara, Calif.)
12 Tom Hoff (MB, State Park Ridge, Ill.)
13 Clay Stanley (OPP, Honolulu, Hawaii)
14 Kevin Hansen (S, Newport Beach, Calif.)
15 Gabe Gardner (OH, San Clemente, Calif.)
U.S. World League Schedule
Date: July 14-15
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah - The "E" Center
Date: July 22-23
Location: Hiroshima Green Arena
Date: July 29-30
Location: Minneapolis, Minn. - Target Center
Date: Aug. 4-5
Opponent: Serbia & Montenegro
Location: Spokane, Wash. - Spokane Memorial Arena
Date: Aug. 12-13
Location: Katowice - Spodek
Date: Aug. 18-19
Opponent: Serbia & Montenegro
Location: Beograd - Hall Pionir
World League Final
Date: Sept. 22-28
2006 World League Pools
Pool A-Japan, Poland, Serbia and Montenegro, USA
Pool B-Argentina, Brazil, Finland, Portugal
Pool C-China, France, Italy, Russia
Pool D-Bulgaria, Cuba, Egypt, Korea