After it won the Olympic gold medal in Beijing in 2008, the U.S. men’s volleyball team had two big changes on its roster.
Alan Knipe took a leave of absence from his job as head coach of the men’s volleyball team at Long Beach State University to take over for Hugh McCutcheon as head coach of the team.
Lloy Ball, who had been the U.S. men’s starting setter at every Olympics since Atlanta in 1996, retired from the U.S. team, although he continued to play overseas for his club team in Russia.
The rest of the team has remained largely intact and has been successful since 2008. Olympic MVP and opposite Clay Stanley, outside hitter Reid Priddy, middle blocker Ryan Millar, libero Rich Lambourne and middle blocker David Lee, who all played major roles for the team in Beijing, continue to be the foundations of the team. Priddy took over as team captain when Tom Hoff left the team following the 2009 season.
Outside hitter Sean Rooney, who was a backup for the 2008 Olympic Team, has played a much greater role since then, but has struggled with injuries in 2011. Outside hitter Matt Anderson is also vying for a spot on the London roster.
Setter Kevin Hansen looked to be the heir apparent to Ball, but has struggled with consistency. Setter Donald Suxho, a 2004 Olympian who did not make the 2008 roster, took over as starter in 2009, but suffered a knee injury during the 2010 World League that required surgery and has also had consistency issues.
Setter Brian Thornton, who had only played in tournaments with the men’s A2 team to that point, stepped into the starting setter’s role during the 2011 World League and never let go, helping the team finish second in its pool and advance to the final round (new rules sent the top-seven teams in pool play to the final round).
In 2009, the team finished with a respectable record of 16-6, including winning the FIVB World Championship Qualifier, taking second in the NORCECA Men’s Continental Championship and a sixth-place finish in the 2009 FIVB World League. It went into the 2010 season ranked No. 2 in the world. In 2010, the United States finished with a 14-7 record. The team finished eighth in the 2010 World League – where the Americans were grouped with Russia – and did not advance from pool play. The U.S. placed sixth at the FIVB World Championship, suffering an emotional loss to Italy in the quarterfinals and falling to Russia in the fifth-place match.
The U.S. men opened the 2011 season with a seventh-place finish at world league. They will take the first step toward Olympic qualification at the NORCECA Men’s Continental Championship on Aug. 29-Sept. 3. The top two teams at NORCECA qualify for the 2011 FIVB World Cup, which will be held Nov. 20-Dec. 4 in Japan. The top three teams at the world cup will qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games.
- Who will set? Kevin Hansen, Donald Suxho and Brian Thornton have all started at setter for the U.S. men since the 2008 Olympic Games. Lloy Ball, who set for the U.S. men’s team at four Olympic Games (1996, 2000, 2004, 2008) has said he will not play again for the U.S. However, he continues to play overseas during the winter and is still considered one of the best setters in the world. He was lured out of a similar retirement for the 2008 Games.
- Cuba Rises: The Cuban Men’s National Team, which was not much of a threat during the last quadrennial, has arisen as a powerhouse thanks in large part to 18-year-old phenom Wilfredo Leon. The team beat the U.S. at the 2009 NORCECA Championships and went on to finish second to Brazil at the FIVB Grand Champions Cup. In 2010, it finished second to Brazil at the world championship. Prior to the 2011 World League, three veteran starters were left off the team, allegedly after saying they wanted to play overseas. Cuba finished eighth and the U.S. beat the team, 3-2, in the world league final round. The teams will most likely meet again at the NORCECA Continental Championship (NORCECA is the zone for teams in North and Central American and the Caribbean), where the top two teams advance to the world cup. If neither team finishes in the top three at the world cup to qualify for the Olympic Games, then they will most likely meet again at the NORCECA Olympic Qualifier on May 11-20 in Puerto Rico.
- Fatigue a Factor? Because there is no U.S. volleyball league in the United States, most players go overseas during the winter to play for club teams in countries that have leagues. This can make for a long year with few breaks for players who will go from the NORCECA Championships to their club teams, then back for world cup, then back overseas… and possibly to more Olympic qualifiers.
- Clay Stanley: Opposite – Honolulu, Hawaii
- Reid Priddy: Outside hitter – Richmond, Va.
- Ryan Millar: Middle blocker – Alpine, Utah
- Rich Lambourne: Libero – Tustin, Calif.
- David Lee: Middle blocker – Alpine, Calif.
- Kevin Hansen: Setter – Newport Beach, Calif.
- Brian Thornton: Setter – San Clemente, Calif.
- Donald Suxho: Setter – Korce, Albania
- Sean Rooney: Outside hitter – Wheaton, Ill.
- Matt Anderson: Outside hitter – West Seneca, N.Y.
The first chance for teams to qualify is at the 2011 FIVB World Cup (Nov. 20-Dec. 4 in Japan), where top-three finishers will qualify. The second chance will be at the NORCECA Qualifier on May 11-20 in Puerto Rico, where only the top team qualifies. Finally, there are three “wild card” qualifiers; teams that have not yet qualified can compete in one and only the winner advances. Players on the Olympic Team are chosen by the coaches.
Athlete Twitter Handles or Facebook Fan Pages
- Aug. 29-Sept. 3, 2011: NORCECA Continental Championship – Puerto Rico
- Nov. 20-Dec. 4, 2011: FIVB World Cup – Japan
- May 11-20, 2012: NORCECA Olympic Qualifier – Puerto Rico
- June 8-10, 2012: FIVB Olympic Qualifying tournaments – Japan, Germany and Italy
- Reid Priddy - @ReidPriddy
B.J. Hoeptner Evans