OSAKA, Japan (Sept. 15, 2015) – The U.S. Men’s National Volleyball Team that is competing at the FIVB World Cup has 14 players on the official roster.
So far, however, only the starting seven has seen significant playing time in matches, which isn’t surprising considering that the team is 5-0 and must finish in the top two to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The U.S. Men are particularly rich in middle blockers. Current starters Max Holt and David Lee are among the top blockers in the tournament. Lee is a two-time Olympian and 2008 gold medalist and Holt was a 2012 Olympic alternate who has proven himself to be among the best in the world since then.
Behind Holt and Lee are two more 2012 Olympians, David Smith and Russell Holmes.
In fact, at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Holmes, 33, was the starting middle blocker along with Lee. Holmes started all 21 sets of the Olympic Games and led the team in blocks (.81 per set) and was second among all Olympic players.
Going from starting at the Olympic Games to sitting the bench has not been easy for Holmes, who admitted he’s “always been competitive and super driven and focused on whatever is in front of me.”
But he has found a positive side to his changing role.
“It’s been a really good learning experience,” he said. “It’s made me better in a lot of ways, taking a different role, being able to come off the bench and make plays for my team at important moments.
“Putting pressure on (the other team) from the service line is a big role I’ve taken. Those have allowed me to focus on parts of my game that I maybe haven’t in the past.”
A good attitude is serving Holmes well not only on the U.S. team, but also internationally, where it is getting tougher for middle blockers to find jobs. Last winter, Holmes played for league-champion Asseco Resovia Rzeszow. But he has not found a team to play for this winter.
But again, Holmes is looking at the positive side. A winter off would mean getting to spend more time with wife Krystal and daughters Sadie Rae, was born in 2007 and Shea Golden, born in 2015.
“My role as a father is something I pride myself on, more than my occupation, more than my hobbies or my job as a volleyball player,” he said. “If I’m going to be great at anything in this life, I want to be great as a father.”
Going to the Olympic Games wasn’t something Holmes had thought about when he started playing volleyball as a junior at Fountain Valley High School in California. Soccer was his primary sport until friends convinced him his height (6-foot-8) could be put to better use.
He went on to BYU where he became an AVCA First Team All-American as a senior. He found his way onto the U.S. Men’s National Team in 2009. Since then, he won a World League gold medal in 2014, silver in 2012 and bronze this year. This year marks his second appearance on a World Cup roster. He also helped the team qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games before competing in London.
“When I look back I just feel so blessed to have had that opportunity. I know so many athlete who aspire to achieve that goal don’t get the chance. I was in awe of it the whole time, of the entire experience,” he said of the London Games. “It would be great to experience that again.”