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US Men Begin Road to Olympic Qualification

May 07, 2012, 12 a.m. (ET)

B.J. Hoeptner Evans
Manager, Communications
Phone: (719) 228-6800
E-Mail: bj.evans@usav.org

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (May 6, 2012) – There was a time, prior to 1996, when the defending volleyball Olympic champion was given a berth into the next Summer Games.

These days, only the host country gets an automatic pass. Everyone else has to earn their ticket to London and that is what the U.S. Men’s National Volleyball Team, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist, will be working for on May 7-12 at NORCECA Men’s Continental Olympic Qualifying Tournament at the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach, Calif.

Only the winner of the eight-team NORCECA (North American, Central America and the Caribbean Confederation) Qualifier will make it to the 2012 Olympic Games. The United States, ranked sixth in the world by the FIVB and second in NORCECA, won its first men’s qualifier in 2000 and has won every four years since then. But the 2012 team knows that an Olympic berth won’t come easy.

“It’s going to be a tough tournament,” U.S. Head Coach Alan Knipe (Huntington Beach, Calif.) said. “All eight of these teams have something to prove and want to qualify for the Olympic Games.”

This is the first time the United States has hosted the men’s Olympic qualifier, which was originally going to be held in Puerto Rico. It is being held at Knipe’s alma mater and the university where he coached before taking over as U.S. Men’s head coach in 2009. It is also just minutes away from the U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Teams training headquarters in Anaheim, Calif.

But the team still isn’t sure what kind of crowd it can expect.

“I’m just really glad to have the guys playing in Southern California,” Knipe said. “I really want to see the great volleyball community in this area come out and support these guys. It’s only a home-court advantage if it really feels that way.”

If the United States does not qualify this week, it will be invited to one of three FIVB World Olympic Qualification Tournaments, to be held in Japan, Italy and Germany.

The Players

The 12 players that will compete for the U.S. Men at the NORCECA Qualifier are mostly very familiar.

Seven players on the team are Olympians who have been through this process before: outside hitters Reid Priddy (Richmond, Va.) and Riley Salmon (League City, Texas), middle blockers David Lee (Alpine, Calif.) and Ryan Millar (Alpine, Utah), opposite Clay Stanley (Honolulu, Hawaii), setter Donald Suxho (Korce, Albania) and libero Rich Lambourne (Tustin, Calif.).

Four players are new to Olympic qualifying, but have extensive international experience with the team over the past three seasons: outside hitters Matt Anderson (West Seneca, N.Y.) and Paul Lotman (Lakewood, Calif.), middle blocker Russell Holmes (Fountain Valley, Calif.) and setter Brian Thornton (San Clemente, Calif.).

One player, opposite Dave McKienzie (Littleton, Colo.), last played for the U.S. Men internationally in 2007. When it became clear he was not going to make the 2008 Olympic team, he stepped away, but continued to play internationally indoors and also on U.S. beach volleyball domestic tours.

In 2011, McKienzie’s former college coach, Knipe, called and said the team was still looking for an opposite to back up Stanley and McKienzie returned to the team to train for World Cup. He was only with the team for five days, but showed Knipe enough to invite him back this spring.

“It’s nice to be back,” he said. “I’ve missed playing with these guys and I’ve missed playing at a high level.

“I love the beach, but it can’t compare with competing on a top indoor team.”

McKienzie will play backup to Stanley, the 2008 Olympic MVP who is coming off rehabilitation for a knee injury suffered while he was playing in Russia over the winter. Stanley did not play in the two exhibition matches against Argentina that the U.S. played in April, but did see significant time in the team’s intra-squad scrimmage on May 4 and finished with 10 points on eight attacks and two aces in three sets.

Suxho, a 2004 Olympian who has struggled with injuries, is at 100 percent and coming off a strong season in Italy. He will be backed up by Thornton, who started for the U.S. during most of the 2011 FIVB World League, including two victories over Brazil.

Among the middle blockers, Lee and Millar may be 2008 gold medalists, but Holmes has come on strong and had a good winter playing in Poland.

Priddy and Anderson have locked down the starting outside spots. Salmon, who was being tested at libero, will be available to play front or back row after spending most of the winter training in Anaheim. Lotman has seen significant international playing time over the last three years and his Polish club team won the league championship with him as a starter.

Although Lambourne did not play on a club team over the winter, he trained in Anaheim and has looked strong against Argentina and in the U.S. Men’s intra-squad scrimmage.

The Competition

Cuba, ranked fifth in the world by the FIVB and first in NORCECA, finished eighth at the 2011 FIVB World League and fifth at the 2011 FIVB World Cup. It finished second at the 2010 FIVB World Championship. It also won the NORCECA Continental Championship in 2009 and 2011. Cuba finished with the bronze medal at the 2008 NORCECA Men’s Continental Olympic Qualification Tournament behind the United States and Puerto Rico.

Mexico, ranked No. 23 in the world and No. 3 in NORCECA, comes into the NORCECA Men’s Continental Olympic Qualifier off of a fourth-place finish at the 2011 Pan American Games and fifth place at the 2011 Pan American Cup and NORCECA Continental Championship. The team qualified for the 2010 FIVB World Championship where it finished tied for 13th.

Currently ranked No. 18 in the world and fourth in NORCECA, Canada has taken many steps forward since it began international competition in 1959. Canada placed third at the 2011 NORCECA Continental Championship.

Puerto Rico, ranked No. 17 in the FIVB and fifth in NORCECA, has pushed both the United States and Cuba in recent matches. It placed 13th at the 2010 FIVB World Championship in Italy and fourth at the 2011 NORCECA Continental Championship and the 2011 Pan American Cup. Puerto Rico played the United States in the 2011 FIVB World League with USA matches played at the Pyramid in Long Beach bringing venue familiarity to the program.

Trinidad & Tobago, ranked No. 33 in the world and sixth in NORCECA, finished sixth at the 2011 NORCECA Continental Championship. Costa Rica is ranked 43rd in the world by the FIVB and ninth in NORCECA. The Dominican Republic, ranked 46th in the world and 10th in NORCECA.

Canada hosted the first two NORCECA Men’s Continental Olympic Qualification Tournaments with spots into the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games. Puerto Rico hosted the event in 2004 and 2008. The United States is hosting its first-ever NORCECA Men’s Continental Olympic Qualification Tournament.

From 1972 to 1992 the NORCECA Championships doubled as qualification for the Olympic Games, with the champions moving on. For the first two Olympic Games in 1964 and 1968, the team from NORCECA was decided via the Pan American Games.

2012 NORCECA Men’s Continental Olympic Qualification Tournament
May 7-12 at the Pyramid in Long Beach, Calif.No. Name (Position, Height, Hometown, College)
1. Matt Anderson (OH, 6-10, West Seneca, N.Y., Penn State)
4. David Lee (MB, 6-8, Alpine, Calif., Long Beach State)
5. Rich Lambourne (L, 6-3, Tustin, Calif., BYU)
6. Paul Lotman (OH, 6-7, Lakewood, Calif., Long Beach State)
7. Donald Suxho (S, 6-5, Korce, Albania, USC)
8. Reid Priddy (OH, 6-5, Richmond, Va., Loyola Marymount)
9. Ryan Millar (MB, 6-8, Alpine, Utah, BYU)
10. Riley Salmon (OH, 6-6, League City, Texas, Pierce College)
11. Brian Thornton (S, 6-3, San Clemente, Calif., UC Irvine)
12. Russell Holmes (MB, 6-8, Fountain Valley, Calif., BYU)
13. Clay Stanley (Opp, 6-9, Honolulu, Hawai'i, Hawaii)
19. David McKienzie (Opp, 6-4, Littleton, Colo., Long Beach State)

Head Coach: Alan Knipe (Huntington Beach, Calif.)
Team Manager: Rob Browning (Newport Beach, Calif.)
Assistant Coach: Gary Sato (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Assistant Coach: John Speraw (Irvine, Calif.)
Assistant Coach: Ron Larsen (Lafayette, Calif.)
Technical Coordinator: Chris Jackson (Phoenix, Ariz.)
Medical Support: Aaron Brock (Storm Lake, Iowa)

2012 NORCECA Men’s Olympic Games Qualification Tournament Schedule (All times PT)
Schedule subject to change depending on U.S. finishes

Pool Play
May 7
1 p.m. Canada vs. Dominican Republic
3 p.m. Mexico vs. Costa Rica
6 p.m. Cuba vs. Puerto Rico
8 p.m. USA vs. Trinidad & Tobago

May 8
1 p.m. Cuba vs. Dominican Republic
3 p.m. Mexico vs. Trinidad & Tobago
6 p.m. Canada vs. Puerto Rico
8 p.m. USA vs. Costa Rica

May 9
1 p.m. Puerto Rico vs. Dominican Republic
3 p.m. Costa Rica vs. Trinidad & Tobago
6 p.m. Cuba vs. Canada
8 p.m. USA vs. Mexico

May 10
6 p.m. 2nd-place B vs. 3rd-place A
8 p.m. 2nd-place A vs. 3rd-place B

Classification 5-8
May 11
1 p.m. 4th-place A vs. Quarterfinal Loser
3 p.m. 4th-place B vs. Quarterfinal Loser

May 11
6 p.m. 1st-place B vs. Quarterfinal Winner
8 p.m. 1st-place A vs. Quarterfinal Winner

May 12
1 p.m. Seventh-place match
3 p.m. Fifth-place match
6 p.m. Third-place match
8 p.m. Championship