LONG BEACH, Calif. (June 7, 2014) – Taylor Sander, who just finished his collegiate career at Brigham Young University, has already played a huge role with the U.S. Men’s National Team starting the 2014 FIVB World League with a 3-0 record.
Sander (Huntington Beach, Calif.), the 2014 American Volleyball Coaches Association Men’s Division I-II National Player of the Year, made his Team USA debut in FIVB action just a couple weeks after his last match with the Cougars at the NCAA Men’s National Collegiate Championship.
In his first-ever FIVB World League match, Sander scored 20 points in helping the Americans to a five-set win at Bulgaria on May 23. He added 12 points in the second match against Bulgaria the following evening. Sander continued to impress with a 22-point performance in helping the U.S. defeat Russia 3-2 In his home debut wearing the Red, White and Blue on June 6 at Long Beach, Calif. Through the first three matches of the FIVB World League Pool B, Sander has collected 54 points in 14 sets (3.86 average per set).
“Taylor has these huge expectations that have been placed on his shoulders for a long time, and I think he puts that pressure on himself,” U.S. Men’s National Team Head Coach John Speraw said. “I am unbelievably impressed with the way he has played the game and handling the overall expectations on his arrival on the National Team. You can see he physically and athletically has the opportunity to be a truly elite level volleyball player in the world. I think he is going to have a great career. I am very pleased with what he has done so far.”
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Yet, Sander is not the only young player making an impact on Team USA’s success thus far in the World League. New blood started to arrive in the USA gym last year in Speraw’s first year with the program. Though the team took some early lumps in this quadrennial, the youth movement is starting to pay off in terms of experience playing alongside a core group of veterans.
“When I took the job, I knew what we were getting into,” Speraw said in regards to a movement toward youth with an aging roster from the 2012 Olympics. “The core group of athletes that had been with USA Volleyball for two or maybe three quads was eventually going to age and retire and move on with their lives. That was the challenge that we had. We obviously have been pretty aggressive on bringing new guys into the gym.”
Team USA has seven players under the age of 25 on its 22-player 2014 World League roster, which includes now veteran players such as libero Erik Shoji (Honolulu) and setter Micah Christenson (Honolulu) in prominent roles alongside Sander.
“You can see we have some young impact young players - Erik, Micah and Taylor - there are others in the gym who will probably work their way up over the course of the next two summers,” Speraw said. “And yet we have this balance between some really good leadership from our veterans.”
Christenson, who just turned 21 last month and will be a senior next spring at University of Southern California, has already become one of the top setters in the world. Through the first three matches of 2014 World League, he is averaging 6.64 running sets per set leading to three victories. Christenson was named the Best Server and Best Setter at the 2013 NORCECA Continental Championship. He gained further experience as the starting setter at the FIVB World Grand Championship Cup last November against some of the top teams in the world.
“Micah has a bright future with the U.S. team,” said four-time Olympian Lloy Ball, who set the U.S. to the 2008 Olympic Games gold medal. “He plays with poise and resolve. He listens well and is easily coached.”
Shoji, who will turn 25 in August, is leading the 2014 FIVB World League in reception with a 62.0 efficiency percent on 92 chances. Last year he started every World League match and led Team USA’s preliminary pool with 118 digs. Later in 2013 Shoji was the Best Digger at the 2013 FIVB World Grand Championship Cup.