U.S. Men's World Cup Squad Honored as Team of Year

By B.J. Hoeptner Evans (bj.evans@usav.org) | Dec. 23, 2015, 2 p.m. (ET)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Dec. 23, 2015) – At the beginning of the 2016 season, U.S. Men’s Head Coach John Speraw made it clear that his team’s focus for the season would be on the FIVB World Cup in September.

While qualifying for the Olympics was paramount, he wanted the players to want more.U.S. Men's National Team

“I always wanted to set the goal higher than to qualify,” Speraw said. “I think a lot of people go into that tournament and just want to get to the Olympic Games. I really wanted to do more.”

As you may have heard, the U.S. Men did do more, winning the World Cup and qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games. For their achievement, the U.S. Men’s Team for the World Cup has been named the 2015 USAV Indoor Team of the Year.

To recap, the World Cup victory was the first for the U.S. Men since 1985 and the first time ever that the team had ever qualified for the Olympics at the World Cup. Opposite Matt Anderson was named the tournament Most Valuable Player, Micah Christenson was named Best Setter and Erik Shoji took Best Libero.

“The key to the team’s success is probably continuing to develop its chemistry,” Speraw said. “The group of players we took to World Cup enjoyed their experience of being together for the most part.”

Added Anderson: “We changed some things with the way we approached our competitions this summer and fall. It required us to put more focus into training, but also to give up more of our free time away from the gym to study systems and build team chemistry.

“It made us grow closer as a team and turned us more toward being a family.”

With all the joy at the World Cup success, it is easy to forget that the U.S. Men had to come back from some heartbreaking losses this season. In May, the U.S. Men lost the final match of the NORCECA World Cup Qualifier to Canada (3-2) in Detroit. Obviously, the U.S. Men still qualified for the World Cup by virtue of their second-place finish, but the loss still caught the team off guard.

Then, in July, the U.S Men went into the FIVB World League Final Round in Rio de Janeiro hoping to defend their title from 2014. But the U.S. lost 3-2 to Serbia in the semifinals after fighting back from a 0-2 deficit and having some controversial calls go against them in the fifth set.

“All I think about World League is that Serbia match,” Speraw said. “We learned a lot of lessons that we were able to apply during World Cup.”

One thing that has helped the U.S. Men during long tournaments like World Cup has been Speraw’s focus on bringing in younger players. Three of the players on the World Cup starting seven – Christenson, Taylor Sander and Aaron Russell – are 23 or under and all except David Lee, 33, are younger than 30.

“Micah has incredible athletic ability, but also a mind for the game at a young age with a very calming and straightforward persona,” Anderson said. “Aaron and Taylor both play with a confidence and freedom that allow them to succeed in breeding energy and confidence in other teammates.”

Speraw knows that the team still needs to improve if it wants to do well in Rio. But the World Cup success and the way the team approached the tournament gives him great hope for August.

“All the guys worked really, really hard to get ready for the cup,” he said. “They completely committed themselves to putting in hours of time to scout and get ready and be at their best every sings match of the World Cup.

“Certainly we hope we can continue to push and prepare to make it better next summer.”

U.S. Roster for the FIVB World Cup
No. Name (Position, Height, Hometown, College)
1. Matt Anderson (OH, 6-9, West Seneca, N.Y., Penn State)
2. Aaron Russell (OH, 6-9, Ellicott City, Md., Penn State)
3. Taylor Sander (OH, 6-4, Huntington Beach, Calif., BYU)
4. David Lee (MB, 6-8, Alpine, Calif., Long Beach State)
6. Paul Lotman (OH, 6-7, Lakewood, Calif., Long Beach State)
7. Kawika Shoji (S, 6-3, Honolulu, Hawaii, Stanford)
9. Murphy Troy (Opp, 6-8, St. Louis, Mo., Southern California)
11. Micah Christenson (S, 6-6, Honolulu, Southern California)
12. Russell Holmes (MB, 6-8, Fountain Valley, Calif., BYU)
16. Jayson Jablonsky (OH, 6-5, Yorba Linda, Calif., UC Irvine)
17. Max Holt (MB, 6-9, Cincinnati, Ohio, Penn State)
20. David Smith (MB, 6-7, Saugus, Calif., UC Irvine)
21. Dustin Watten (L, 6-0, Long Beach, Calif., Long Beach State)
22. Erik Shoji (L, 6-0, Honolulu, Hawaii, Stanford) 

Head Coach: John Speraw
Team Manager: Andrea Becker 
Assistant Coaches: Matt Fuerbringer and Mike Wall
Technical Coordinator: Nate Ngo
Athletic Trainer: Aaron Brock