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Young players have chance to shine at Pan Am Cup

June 14, 2009, 6:53 p.m. (ET)

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

ANAHEIM, Calif. (June 14, 2009) – A group of young U.S. Men’s National Team volleyball players are in Chiapas, Mexico this week for the NORCECA Pan American Cup.

This wasn’t the team that was originally supposed to be competing. However the H1N1 virus – AKA swine flu – outbreak in Mexico caused NORCECA to change the dates of the event from the first week in June to the third, which gave some players a golden opportunity for international experience.

“I think it’s a great experience for all of them to get some international playing time at that level,” said Rick McLaughlin, the head coach for the U.S. team and also head men’s volleyball coach at UC Santa Barbara. “We are going down there with the intent to win, absolutely. But the other intent is to get some experience and get them ready for the A team.”

Six other NORCECA teams are competing at the Pan American Cup. The United States is in Group A with Canada and Dominican Republic. Group B contains Mexico, Guatemala, Panama and Puerto Rico.

The competition begins Monday, but the United States won’t play its first match until Tuesday against Dominican Republic at 6 p.m. in Chiapas (4 p.m. PDT). The U.S. Men will play Canada on Wednesday at 6 p.m. (4 p.m. PDT).

The team captain will be setter Tyler Hildebrand (Mesa, Ariz.), a 2006 graduate of Long Beach State, where he was a three-time first team AVCA All-American and a three-time first team All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) selection. He was a member of the U.S. teams for the 2003 (bronze medal) and 2005 World University Games.

Since college, Hildebrand has played club volleyball in Puerto Rico. He also played on the 2008 U.S. Men’s Pan American Cup team that won the gold medal in Canada.

The team’s other setter, Brian Thornton (San Clemente, Calif.), comes from UC Irvine, which he helped lead to the 2007 NCAA men’s volleyball championship. He was a member of the 2007 World University Games team that won the bronze medal in Thailand.

McLaughlin said he will also look for team leadership from outside hitter Robert Tarr (Cape Canveral, Fla.), who finished his career at Long Beach State in 2007 and since then has played at the 2007 World University Games and on professional club teams in Puerto Rico and the United Arab Emirates. 

Tarr was also a member of the 2008 Pan Am Cup team.

Other players on the team with a few years of experience under their belts are opposite Matt McKinney (Santa Ynez, Calif.), middle blocker Nate Meerstein (La Porte City, Iowa) and outside hitter Nils Nielsen (Fallbrook, Calif.).

Veteran leadership will be important, as several players on the team are still in college or just finished their college careers.

Libero Dustin Watten (Long Beach, Calif.) just finished at Long Beach State while opposite Dean Bittner (Lakewood, Calif.) has one more year with the 49ers. Middle blocker Max Holt (Cincinnati, Ohio) just completed his senior season at Penn State. Libero Isaac Kneubuhl finished at Cal State Northridge in 2008 while outside hitter Eric Vance just finished his career with the Matadors.

Middle blocker Austin Zahn (Hermosa Beach, Calif.) will be a junior with USC next season.

“I don’t think we’re real big, but they are good all-around volleyball players,” McLaughlin said of his team. “They have good skills and show some speed, too.”

2009 U.S. Pan American Cup Roster

No. Name (Position, Height, Weight, Hometown, College)

1 Eric Vance (OH, 6-4, 195, Camarillo, Calif., Cal State Northridge)
3 Dean Bittner (Opp, 6-7, 187, Lakewood, Calif., Long Beach State)
4 Matt McKinney (OH, 6-9, 225, Santa Ynez, Calif., UCLA)
5 Isaac Kneubuhl (L, 6-1, 190, Pukalani, Hawai'i, Cal State Northridge)
6 Tyler Hildebrand (S, 6-5, 196, Mesa, Ariz., Long Beach State)
7 Robert Tarr (OH, 6-6, 200, Cape Canaveral, Fla., Long Beach State)
8 Nate Meerstein (MB, 6-9, 209, La Porte City, Iowa, Penn State)
9 Nils Nielsen (OH, 6-4, 180, Fallbrook, Calif., Cal State Northridge)
10 Brian Thornton (S, 6-3, 187, San Clemente, Calif., UC Irvine)
11 Max Holt (MB, 6-9, 198, Cincinnati, Ohio, Penn State)
14 Austin Zahn (MB, 6-8, 220, Hermosa Beach, Calif., USC)
19 Dustin Watten (L, 6-0, 162, Long Beach, Calif., Long Beach State)

Head Coach: Rick McLaughlin (UC Santa Barbara)
Team Manager: Ken Preston (UC Santa Barbara)
Assistant Coach: Scott Wong (Pepperdine)
Therapist/Trainer: Chris Birch (Penn State)
Team Doctor: Ken Schroeder