It’s been nearly 10 months since the U.S. men’s volleyball team won the bronze medal at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, and the team that will open FIVB World League play this weekend will look a bit different.
With a number of veteran players out for various reasons, there’s now an opportunity for some up-and-comers to gain valuable international experience as the new quadrennium kicks off. Although with Team USA tied for No. 2 in the FIVB world rankings, this isn’t an event the team is taking lightly.
Here are some things to know as the event kicks off.
How Does The World League Work?
Thirty-six countries, divided into three groups, will participate in this year’s World League and will play in 162 matches in 28 host cities. The U.S. team, which last won the World League in 2014, will compete in Group 1 along with the other powerhouses of the sport including Olympic gold medalists Brazil and 2016 World League champions Serbia, against whom Team USA will open competition on Friday in Novi Sad, Serbia.
Each team will play a total of nine matches over three weekends of pool play. The top five teams, plus hosts Brazil, meet July 4-8 to determine the champion in Curitiba.
How Much Experience Does The U.S. Team Carry?
Just six of the players that competed in Rio will be playing in the World League: setter Micah Christenson, outside hitter Thomas Jaeschke, libero Erik Shoji, middle blocker David Smith, setter Kawika Shoji, who will also be the captain, and outside hitter Taylor Sander, who was the MVP in 2014 when the U.S. men won the World League.
Five other U.S. players have previous World League experience. They are opposite Carson Clark, outside hitter Jayson Jablonsky, middle blocker Dan McDonnell, outside hitter Garrett Muagututia and libero Dustin Watten.
Three have been on World League preliminary rosters: setter James Shaw, outside hitter T.J. DeFalco and opposite Ben Patch.
Meanwhile, four players — middle blockers Taylor Averill, Thomas Carmody and Jeff Jendryk and outside hitter Jake Langlois — are on the World League preliminary roster for the first time ever.
Veterans who aren’t named on the preliminary roster include 2016 Olympian Aaron Russell, who is out with an injury; 2016 Olympian Murphy Troy, who retired; four-time Olympian Reid Priddy, who is playing beach volleyball; and three-time Olympian David Lee, who is taking the season off.
Each weekend, 14 of the 18 players on the U.S. preliminary roster can be selected to play as long as two are liberos.
What Should We Know About The Newcomers?
There is no shortage of talent among the newcomers. Langlois is coming off a senior season at BYU in which he was named an AVCA First Team All-American and led the Cougars to an NCAA runner-up finish.
Averill, who was a two-time AVCA First Team All-American for Hawaii and has been playing club volleyball in Italy, represented Team USA at the 2015 Pan American Games.
Carmody was a two-time Off the Block National Blocker of the Year in college, in 2014 with Pacific and 2016 with Pepperdine. Jendryk, meanwhile, is a rising senior at Loyola of Chicago and was a AVCA First Team All-American.
How Has Team USA Done In Past World Leagues?
In addition to winning the World League in 2014, one year after coach John Speraw took over the program, the United States also won in 2008, finished second in 2012 and third in 1992, 2007 and 2015. The Americans finished in fifth place last year.
The U.S. team was one of the original eight that competed in the first World League tournament in 1990 and has competed every year since 2006 for a total of 19 appearances. Only Brazil and Italy have competed every year since the World League started.
Who Are Some Other Teams To Watch?
Serbia, which missed the Olympics last year, won the last World League title and returns its top players, including 2016 MVP Marko Ivovic and Best Middle Blocker Srecko Lisinca.
Brazil won gold in Rio and now has a new coach in 1984 silver medalist Renan Dal Zotto, who was named the replacement for Bernardo Rezende, who stepped down following the Games.
Group 1 also includes France, Italy, Russia, Poland, Iran, Argentina, Belgium, Bulgaria and Group 1 newcomer Canada.