Manager, Media Relations and Publications
ANAHEIM, Calif. (April 25, 2008) - Former beach volleyball player Sean Rooney knew he had really left his previous life behind when he was playing indoor volleyball for a Russian professional team this winter.
"It was minus-40 degrees when I left Russia," he said from the U.S. Men's National Team's headquarters in Anaheim, Calif. "I'm really glad to be back."
Rooney, 25, hasn't had much time to recover from his time playing for Dinamo-Yantar in Kaliningrad, Russia. The 6-foot-9 outside hitter is back in the gym as the U.S. Men prepare for a busy summer of competition before the 2008 Olympic Games in August in Beijing.
After the Four Nations Tournament in Germany (May 11-13), the U.S. Men will face Argentina at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Exhibition for Volleyball on May 27 at the Bren Center in Irvine, Calif.
The team will travel to Winnipeg for the Pan American Cup on June 2-7 before beginning the grueling six-week (seven if it competes in the final round) 2008 FIVB World League series, which will include U.S. stops in Hoffman Estates, Ill. (June 20-21 against Bulgaria), in Green Bay, Wis. (June 27-28 against Finland), and in Bloomington Ill. (July 11-12 against Spain).
As luck would have it for Rooney, it is the second year that the team will be playing near his hometown of Wheaton, Ill., a suburb of Chicago (Hoffman Estates is also outside Chicago), where he played volleyball for Wheaton-Warrenville South High School.
"The way that has worked out for me and my family is great," Rooney said. "I don't have a whole lot of time to make it back to see them. It's great to be able to play in front of friends and family."
In 2001, Rooney left Wheaton for Malibu, Calif., to play volleyball for Marv Dunphy at Pepperdine University. It is hard for him to believe that just three years ago around this time, he was leading the Pepperdine men's volleyball team to the NCAA national championship, before graduating with a degree in business administration.
"It seems pretty far back, especially after spending time in very different locations in Europe and Asia," Rooney said. "I miss playing for Marv. I have some great memories."
After leaving Pepperdine, Rooney played two seasons on the AVP's beach volleyball tour and found some success. But with the 2008 Olympic Games on the horizon, Rooney joined the U.S. Men's National Team at the beginning of 2007.
The transition was not easy and it was about a lot more than trading bare feet for shoes. Although Rooney had played two seasons of professional volleyball in South Korea, that experience did not prepare him for the wicked serves coming from the French and Italian players that the U.S. Men faced during the 2007 World League.
"I had never played at such a high level before," Rooney said. "Part of it was serve-receive. When you are facing some of the best servers in the world, there is not a lot of room for error."
Luckily, U.S. Men's Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon (Christchurch, New Zealand) knew Rooney's potential and helped him through the early mistakes.
"Sean has always been a very physical and talented volleyball athlete," McCutcheon said. "But to play successfully at the international level, he had to improve his technique so he could be a little more consistent.
"The thing that's good about Sean is that he's very coachable. You can tell him to do something and he will implement it right away. That's a big part of why he has improved so quickly."
Rooney's first big breakthrough came at the 2007 Pan American Games in July in Brazil, where a young U.S. Men's Team won the silver medal. Rooney was the team's leading scorer and third overall with 64 points on 58 kills, five blocks and one ace in five matches. He was the Pan Am Games' leading spiker with an efficiency percentage of 42.11.
Rooney had to sit out the NORCECA Men's Continental Championship in September in Anaheim due to an injury. But in November, he returned to the team for the FIVB World Cup competition in Japan and was named the Most Valuable Player of the United States' match against Egypt. He scored 18 points on 15 kills, two blocks and one ace as the United States won in straight sets.
Rooney's best tournament so far came at the 2008 NORCECA Olympic Qualifier in January in Puerto Rico. Rooney was named best spiker as he scored 46 points on 43 kills and three blocks in five matches. Better yet, the U.S. Men won the tournament and qualified for the 2008 Olympic Games.
Rooney does not know yet whether he will be on the U.S. Men's Team that competes in Beijing. But even if he's not, he isn't regretting his move from the sand to the court.
"When I came back indoors, I missed the beach a little," he admitted. "But I've reconnected with indoor. There is so much to learn. I'm really excited for this year and the coming years."