USA Volleyball

2008 Olympic Remembrances

Lloy Ball

Setter Lloy Ball had already “retired” from the U.S. Men’s Team after three Olympic Games without a medal when U.S. Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon approached him in 2007 about re-joining the team. These are his memories of the journey.

U.S. setter Lloy Ball hugs his mom as son Dyer watches

It’s interesting...

You would think with me being a four-time Olympian going in – knowing I was going to be done after that – you would think there would be more pressure on me. Especially with me not having won previously. To give credit where credit is due, Hugh McCutcheon did a great job with bringing together 12 different personalities.

He brought me back for a fourth time and let me just set and play. I didn’t have to be the captain or be a vocal leader. Luckily, I was playing well enough to let my play do the talking. (Beijing) was actually a very relaxed two weeks for me.

Obviously, we had a lot of confidence, winning World League three weeks prior. There was a sense of certainty among the team and coaching staff that we had every possibility to win, or at least get a medal.

We had that hiccup against Venezuela, which I think was partly due to the circumstances with Hugh’s family. Once that was done, even though we were up and down, we never felt like we weren’t going to win those matches, which wasn’t the case in previous Olympics, at least not for me.

My wife had not been to Olympics since Atlanta. My son had never been to one. The fact that my wife, my 7-year-old son and my parents were there and we could share that together was a huge, satisfying factor for me.

Hugh and I stay in contact weekly. We had a great relationship. People forget we played against each other in college when I was at (Purdue University Fort Wayne) and he was at BYU. He did a great job being my coach and my friend.

But our 2008 team was not that tight. Our 96 team was tight. We didn’t win, but we were tight. In 2008, we all had other things going on. I think it was helpful for that team. We could demand things of each other and not worry about hurting feelings.

In the fifth set of the semifinal against Russia, I knew I could cuss and swear at David Lee and he would do something. He ended up scoring four of our last five points in that match. Same with Reid Priddy. We weren’t close. We could get on each other, have conflict and still perform at a high level. It was a weird dynamic. It sort of went back to the ’84 and ’88 type teams and the stories you would hear about how they got along. But we had a massive amount of respect for each other.

We never had closure on that Games. I think the reason why it’s still a little aloof is that we all had jobs we had to get back to the next day. There was a small party after the match. Doug Beal made a toast. We all had one beer and then we were all on planes. There wasn’t a moment to sit together, take a sigh of relief and say, “Holy ****, we just won the Olympics.”

I hope at some point and time, the 12 of us can get together with the staff and have one big collective hug.

People don’t understand, all 12 teams at the Olympics want to win. Everyone thinks it’s USA. It just happens. Everyone else in the world is really, really good. We have the best women’s program in the world and we still don’t have a gold medal. That’s how hard it is.

For 12 guys and 10-person staff to come together and become best in the world is not a small accomplishment. It’s one that I am proud of and I hope rest are, too.

Where is Lloy now?

Ball lives in Angola, Ind., with wife Sarah, son Dyer and daughter Mya.

I built a facility, the Ball Sports Academy, here in Angola, Ind. It has been open 130 days. There are 20 teams in our club. I run the building, run the club and coach the 12U team for our daughter. We had six teams qualify for girls’ junior nationals. I’m looking forward to being in Indy next year.

I coach the local high school team here. It’s a full-time job. I stayed retired for four years and decided to blow all my money on youth volleyball.

I still go to adult nationals every year with the Pineapple team. I don’t want to be overly active with National Team. It’s a hard job and committing that kind of time when I have a family with two kids, it’s not in my wheel house right now. I always watch the Olympics and cheer our boys and girls, because I know how hard it is.

Every year on the 24th I sit in the basement and ... watch us win.

Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon

Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon went on to lead the U.S. Women’s National Team to an Olympic silver medal at the 2012 Summer Games in London. In the fall of 2012, he became head coach of the University of Minnesota’s women’s volleyball team and has led them to two NCAA final four appearances. In November, McCutcheon will be inducted into the International Volleyball Hall of Fame in Holyoke, Mass.

"The match itself felt like a couple of heavyweights going toe to toe. It was tough, but I was just unbelievably proud of how our team responded to that. We stuck to the plan, kept our composure, and played some wonderful volleyball. It was awesome - in every sense of the word.

As for the journey, there were certainly ups and downs, but the overriding theme was the guys commitment to the 'Team' and their commitment to getting better every day. The players and staff created a great environment for this group to become the best they could be. It was a very special thing to be a part of."

Coaches for the U.S. Men's 2008 Olympic Volleyball Team

(L-R): John Speraw, Ron Larsen, Rob Browning, Marv Dunphy, Jamie Morrison, Hugh McCutcheon

MNT Communications Manager B.J. Hoeptner Evans

B.J. Hoeptner Evans is in her 12th year as communications manager for the USMNT.

Beijing was my first time working as a press officer for volleyball at an Olympic Games; but I had worked the two prior Olympic Games for USA Triathlon and considered myself a pro and a veteran. But nothing can really prepare you for anything like what happened in Beijing.

I had been dealing with media all day and night prior to the U.S. Men’s first match against Venezuela and knew that there were going to be plenty of important media there who wanted interviews. After the match, the coach leading the team off the floor told me “we’re not doing the mixed zone.” The mixed zone is the area where the media can interview individual players and staff following the match. The team and the media are separated by a metal fence.

The U.S. Men marched through the mixed zone, past the waiting media and into their locker room. I reminded the media that there was still a press conference and at least they could get quotes there from Head Coach Ron Larsen and Team Captain Tom Hoff.

I had never worked an Olympic volleyball tournament before, but I had worked other international volleyball tournaments, and it was always OK to invite players into the press conference. I managed to get a message to the locker room asking Team Leader Rob Browning to send some players to the press conference when they were done talking.

Crowds of reporters at the press conference
BJ (with the backpack) trying to peer over reporters.

Tom and Ron sat at the press conference table with the Venezuelan captain and coach. After a while, the Venezuelans gracefully excused themselves as they were getting no questions. As Hoff and Larsen were answering questions, Ryan Millar, Riley Salmon and Lloy Ball walked into the press conference. Actually, I am not even sure Riley made it into the room. Before I could even get them to the table, the media leaped up from their chairs and surrounded each of them. I have never seen anything like it.

I have worked two Olympic Games for USA Volleyball since 2008, and both have helped me realize just what an accomplishment it is to set aside the pressure and the politics and win a gold medal.

The U.S. Men celebrate their Olympic victory

Sean Rooney

Outside hitter Sean Rooney has been coaching volleyball at every level since retiring in 2014. He and wife Valerie have two sons, Coleman and Cooper.

I am sure every athlete has a special place in their heart for the feelings associated with their first Olympic Games. I am no different.

Leading up to the tournament, I couldn’t help but peek at the schedule and feel a bit overwhelmed considering the volleyball team played Opening Ceremony to close. The thing that inspires me about that team to this day is the level of composure displayed by all members on the court as well as off.

I recently saw a highlight clip of Clay from Beijing 2008. I love how well that clip has aged. Sure, the game is speeding up and evolving, but I have never seen anything before or since that tournament capable of stooping or slowing down such a performance.

Team Leader Rob Browning

Rob Browning, the team leader of the 2008 U.S. Men’s Olympic Volleyball Team, is in his 14th season as the head coach for women’s volleyball at St. Mary’s.

The gold-medal performance in Beijing is a story of outstanding, selfless leadership. It starts with Hugh McCutcheon, who prepared his team and staff so well that it could withstand extreme adversity and continue to perform well without him being present. Perhaps that is the greatest indicator of outstanding leadership; when a leader prepares his team so well that it doesn’t miss a beat if the leader is not present. That’s selfless leadership.

Hugh’s assistant coaches and support staff were on the same page as Hugh. Ron Larsen, John Speraw, Jamie Morrison, Marv Dunphy, Carl McGown and Aaron Brock were all about the team. Ron Larsen embodied this leadership style; taking over in the role of head coach in Hugh’s absence with the sole focus of making sure things continued just as they had under Hugh’s guidance, without any hint of his own ego getting in the way. 

This same selfless leadership model played out amongst the athletes in several different ways. Lloy Ball, the most veteran Olympian on the team and longtime captain, selflessly assumed a different role. That allowed Tom Hoff to be the captain, a role he carried out expertly, especially given the difficult circumstances in which the team found itself. Tom had the unique ability to take a very veteran group and make sure all egos were subjugated to the team. He did this without playing a starting role on the court. Lloy was still a very influential leader on the team, but he was free to lead without the title of captain hanging around his neck. This created deep leadership on the team, and it continued from there. 

Ryan Millar, Clay Stanley, Reid Priddy, Riley Salmon and Gabe Gardner were all veteran Olympians also, and they all assumed different leadership roles on the team. Again, the leadership on this team was deep, but there was no power struggle, at least not that I saw. It was all about TEAM and total focus on the team goal of winning the gold medal. Egos were set aside. 

2008 U.S. Men's Olympic Team

This model of selfless leadership was so strong, starting from the top, that it ran all the way through every player on the team. David Lee and Rich Lambourne were first-time Olympians with starting roles on the team and were influential in many ways. They knew their roles and played them unselfishly, allowing the more veteran players to assume the bulk of the leadership. 

Sean Rooney and Kevin Hansen were also first-time Olympians and had minimal playing roles in Beijing, but were 100 percent about the team and doing anything they were asked to do. Sean and Kevin had both previously played huge on-court roles on the team as outside hitter and setter respectively. Sean was the starting OH in the deciding Olympic-qualifying match against Puerto Rico in January of 2008 in Caguas, Puerto Rico and was the star of the match. Kevin Hansen was the team’s setter before Lloy returned and he led the team to a World League bronze medal in 2007. Both of these players could have been on the floor in Beijing, but that wasn’t their role. They played their roles selflessly, and that had a significant impact on the team’s success. 

Finally, Scott Touzinsky played one of the most important roles of all. Scott was the tireless source of positive energy on the team. He was the cheerleader. He would do ANYTHING for anyone, and he would do it with enthusiasm and a smile of his face. He was always looking out for every member of the team, players and staff alike. He lived every day like he was living out his dream. He was living his dream. We all were. But Scott radiated it. When you looked at him, you saw someone who treated every moment of every day like it was a precious gift. His lust for life, his unbridled joy for being where he was and doing what he was doing impacted every member of his team and lifted all to a higher place. I truly believe that the selfless role Scott played on that team was vital to the team’s success. That team needed Scott Touzinsky as much as it needed any other player or coach.

Some other memories…

The team was so loose before the big matches. The bus rides to the semifinals and finals were full of laughter and card-playing and shenanigans. The locker room and the staging area before the team took the court were the same – loose and fun, but with a focused energy to get the job done.

I remember all of us sitting in the locker room after beating Russia to get to the gold-medal match. Hanging out, listening to Johnny Cash, and just enjoying the moment. There was no excessive celebration or feeling of having accomplished anything. It was just like any other match. Loose and ready to move on to what was next. 

Scouting reports were impressive in how collaborative they were between coaches and players. The coaches worked long hours putting together detailed scouting reports, and the players contributed with their deep knowledge of their opponent and of what they needed to do to beat them.

Former USA Volleyball CEO Doug Beal

Doug Beal was in Beijing as the then-CEO of USA Volleyball. He is now retired but continues to follow the game.

I remember that the USOC was incredibly accommodating and supportive during the time of the tragedy and after. There were lots of USOC people at our matches. I think I watched the gold medal match with Jim Scheer, who was the CEO at the time.

One of the guys who I recall doing a terrific job was Ron Larsen. Having to step in during the time that Hugh was with his family and dealing with the aftermath and spending time with his wife. I thought the leadership of that team was pretty special, not only the staff but also the players.

Winning a gold medal, there’s lots of elements that play a part and things have to work out right. The maturity of the team was pretty special. Lloy’s role was different from he had ever had before. It was a plus for him and the team. Tom Hoff had a big impact keeping the team focused and emotionally where they needed to be. Reid Priddy, Riley, Lambourne, Millar, it was a special time for all of them that happened to coincide with that tournament.

They had some real challenges. They played a five-set match the very first match of the tournament against Venezuela. I think they were down 2-1 in the quarterfinals to Serbia. They were in a essentially a deuce fifth-set match with Russia. I honestly think their confidence, having survived the whole experience and the close matches, made the finals almost anticlimactic. They were destined to win that match. They played awfully well.

Doug Beal with coaches

(L-R): Rob Browning, Doug Beal, Marv Dunphy, Carl McGown, Hugh McCutcheon, Troy Tanner

I just remember thinking, what a tough spot Ron Larsen was in and how remarkably he performed and how even-tempered he was. They could have lost that first match to Venezuela. Ron is just steady and dependable and thoughtful. I think he was the right guy in a very tough situation. I’m not sure he gets the recognition or credit he deserves.

I’m sure it’s no big secret, I’ve had an affinity for the Men’s Team for a long time. The success that we’ve had has been part of this incredible continuity, whether it’s McGown, Dunphy, Speraw, Hugh, Ron Larsen, Rob Browning. They are just really special people. There’s lots of other, too.

I do remember the celebration on the court right after the match. I had to fight my way on to the court. I was sitting a row or two in front of the Acostas (Dr. Ruben Acosta was president of the FIVB at that time). They were trying to grab me to ask who should be MVP. They didn’t know our team except what they read about. I don’t remember answering the question.

Athletic Trainer Aaron Brock

Aaron Brock is in his 14th year in 2018 as the full-time athletic trainer for the U.S. Men’s National Team. In 2009, he added the title of director of sports medicine and performance to the U.S. national teams.

It is hard to put yourself back in that moment 10 years ago. Sometimes, those awesome moments, if you don’t think about it enough they can get wiped away a little bit.

A few things stick out to me

On the volleyball side, the solid, solid volleyball that was being played. We went undefeated and won the gold medal. I just think back to how well we were playing at the time. I don’t know if I remember another time or a tournament where we played that well. Maybe 2015 World Cup where we just played well from beginning to end. The level of play was real consistent and real high. 

The team’s ability to move forward and do their job in spite of the tragic circumstances with Wiz's dad was more than impressive. The auxiliary staff we had there with legends like Carl and Marv to help Ron when Hugh was absent. That was really important to solidifying some stability.

The cast of characters we had in that quad was unreal. The people we had in the program was so diverse and such a different crew. But when they got on the court it was all synchronized and harmonious. Off the court it was everything but that. I thought it was pretty sweet to see people coming at life in a lot of different ways and yet still being able to come on to the court and do the job. I think that speaks a lot to Hugh being able to manage all those moving pieces. Hugh was a master manager of those things.

I think Lloy coming back and being a solid player and leader was absolutely huge. 

You see how tenuous it is. In 2008 we were in the World League finals. We lost our first match, won our second match in pool play and then we had to rely on Poland beating Serbia or the other way around. I remember being at that game and watching it. The team we were rooting against had a swing for the match and if they kill that ball, we’re out and we don’t even make the final four. The ball bounced the other direction and we made the final four and win it.

The U.S. Men huddle during the World League Final Round

That springboards us into the Olympics. Who knows what impact that had on our performance in Beijing. But I have to think it had some impact. If we don’t make the final four of that tournament and we come limping into the Olympics after a less-than-productive World League finals, I don’t know how that goes. We had to beat Brazil in Brazil in the semifinal. 

The perseverance and dedication to their craft; those guys were volleyball players. A lot of the off-the-court stuff and the things we take right now for being professional like the weight room and nutrition and off-court activities and recovery and all those things we consider things professionals do; that team didn’t do any of that. I’m exaggerating, but that just wasn’t a priority. That wasn’t something that was overly important to being professional. It as important, but not stressed as much as it is now. All then things we’re doing now that are markedly better than what we did 10 years ago and we still won.