Winning an Olympic bronze medal is impressive, but doesn’t usually get a lot of attention.
That was not the case in 2016, as the U.S. Men’s National Volleyball Team came back from an 0-2 deficit against Russia to win the Olympic bronze medal in Rio de Janeiro. That victory came at the end of a tournament that saw the U.S. lose its first two matches, then win the next four before falling in the semifinals to Italy.
“To win gold requires many things. To win bronze requires one: Courage,” U.S. Men’s Head Coach John Speraw tweeted about the Men’s victory.
Nine players from the 2016 Olympic roster are planning to return to the team in 2017, although they won’t all be back right away to the American Sports Centers in Anaheim, Calif.
Opposite Matt Anderson and middle blocker Max Holt are taking a break during the FIVB World League tournament and are expected back in the gym in July. Outside hitters Aaron Russell and Thomas Jaeschke are also missing World League due to injuries.
Middle blocker David Lee is taking the entire 2017 season off to evaluate what he wants to do next. Outside hitter Reid Priddy has left the team to play beach volleyball and opposite Murphy Troy has retired.
Setters Micah Christenson and Kawika Shoji, outside hitter Taylor Sander, libero Erik Shoji and middle blocker David Smith are all competing in the FIVB World League tournament, which runs June 2-19 with the Final Round on July 4-8.
Players new to the World League roster are Tommy Carmody and Jeff Jendryk, opposite Ben Patch, setter James Shaw and outside hitter T.J. DeFalco. Other returning veterans are middle blocker Dan McDonnell, opposite Carson Clark, outside hitters Jayson Jablonsky and Garrett Muagututia and libero Dustin Watten.
Other players on the National Team roster, but not on the World League roster, are libero Michael Brinkley, middle blockers Taylor Averill and Kris Johnson and setter Jonah Seif.
Speraw also returns for his second quad as head coach of the U.S. Men’s Team. His entire staff also returns, with the addition of assistant coach Rob Neilson. Speraw also continues as head coach of the UCLA men’s volleyball team.
After World League, national team players will be looking to compete in the USAV Cup against Brazil (Aug. 18 and 19 in Hoffman Estates, Ill.), at the FIVB Grand Champions Cup (Sept. 12-17 in Japan) and at the NORCECA Continental Championship (Sept. 26-Oct. 1 in Colorado Springs).
There will also be players in the gym preparing for the Pan American Cup (July 24-30 in Canada) and the World University Games (Sept. 19-29 in Taipei City).
2017 Story Lines
- The U.S. Men took bronze at the 2016 Olympic Games in a dramatic 3-2 comeback victory over Russia. The team has now won three Olympic gold medals and two bronze since the sport was introduced in 1964.
- Matt Anderson is considered by many to be the best men’s player in the world and is also one of the most popular. In his six years with the U.S. Men’s Team, Anderson has become the breakout star with his remarkable jumping (he has touched 12-3 in testing), powerful hitting and youthful good looks. Anderson has a nephew who is autistic. Matt has a volleyball tournament that benefits autism and also a puzzle piece tattoo on his wrist for autism awareness.
- Setter Micah Christenson’s parents, Robert and Charlene, both played sports at Hawaii-Hilo; dad played basketball, mom played volleyball where she won three national titles and was a two-time All-American. Micah’s middle name is Makanamaikalani, which means “gift from heaven” in Hawaiian. His mother had surgery while pregnant with him and they didn’t know if he would survive the surgery. In 2013, head coach John Speraw called on Christenson, as a junior at USC, to lead the offense.
- Youth Movement – Thanks to injuries and players taking a break, the U.S. Men’s National Team opened the 2017 FIVB World League with college four players. All four have gotten playing time. T.J. DeFalco just finished his sophomore season at Long Beach State and was named the 2017 AVCA Player of the Year. Jeff Jendryk just finished his junior season at Loyola of Chicago. Ben Patch is leaving school after his junior season to pursue a professional career and Jake Langlois graduated from BYU in May.
- Two-time Olympic middle blocker and bronze medalist David Smith was born with severe hearing loss and uses a hearing aid during matches. Smith often cannot hear other players during a play so Head Coach John Speraw coached David in college at UC Irvine and came up with the “David Smith rule,” which is, “If David wants the ball, David gets the ball.”
- College ties – BYU, UC Irvine and Stanford each have three players on the U.S. Men’s National Team World League travel roster.
- Erik and Kawika Shoji got to play together for two years at Punahou High School in Honolulu and for two years at Stanford University. Now the pair has been reunited on the U.S. Men’s National Team. Both have played on U.S. youth and junior teams through the years. They are the sons of Dave Shoji, the former longtime women’s volleyball coach at the University of Hawaii and the second coach in NCAA DI history to reach 1,000 victories. Dave Shoji retired after the 2016 season after being diagnosed with prostate cancer.
- U.S. Men’s National Team Head Coach John Speraw is doing double duty as the head coach of both the UCLA men’s volleyball team and the U.S. Men’s National Volleyball Team. Speraw won three NCAA DI-II national titles with UC Irvine as head coach, prior to UCLA. Speraw was an assistant coach under Hugh McCutcheon with the U.S. men won the 2008 Olympic Games gold medal.
- Matt Fuerbringer, assistant coach of the U.S. men, was a world class indoor and beach volleyball player. After taking the assistant coaching position, he briefly returned to the beach to compete at the 2013 Manhattan Beach Open, where he and Casey Jennings each won the historic event.
- Men’s volleyball is thought to be a West Coast sport, but Matt Anderson, Max Holt and Aaron Russell are from the East and played for Penn State. Thomas Jaeschke, Jeff Jendryk and Tommy Carmody are all from the Chicago area. Erik and Kawika Shoji and Micah Christenson are all from Hawaii.
2017 FIVB World League Preliminary Roster
1. Tommy Carmody (MB, 6-9, Orland Park, Ill., Pacific/Pepperdine)
3. Taylor Sander (OH, 6-4, Huntington Beach, Calif., BYU)
4. Jeff Jendryk (MB, 6-10, Wheaton, Ill., Loyola of Chicago)
5. James Shaw (S, 6-8, Woodside, Calif., Stanford)
7C. Kawika Shoji (S, 6-3, Honolulu, Hawaii, Stanford)
9. Jake Langlois (OH, 6-10, San Jose, Calif., BYU)
10. Thomas Jaeschke (OH, 6-6, Wheaton, Ill., Loyola of Chicago)
11. Micah Christenson (S, 6-6, Honolulu, Southern California)
13. Dan McDonnell (MB, 6-6, Glendale, Ariz., UC Irvine)
14. Ben Patch (Opp, 6-8, Provo, Utah, BYU)
15. Carson Clark (Opp, 6-6, Santa Barbara, Calif., UC Irvine)
16. Jayson Jablonsky (OH, 6-5, Yorba Linda, Calif., UC Irvine)
17. TJ DeFalco (OH, 6-5, Huntington Beach, Calif., Long Beach State)
18. Garrett Muagututia (OH, 6-5, Oceanside, Calif., UCLA)
19. Taylor Averill (MB, 6-7, San Jose, Calif., Hawaii)
20. David Smith (MB, 6-7, Saugus, Calif., UC Irvine)
21. Dustin Watten (L, 6-0, Long Beach, Calif., Long Beach State)
22. Erik Shoji (L, 6-0, Honolulu, Hawaii, Stanford)
Head Coach: John Speraw
Team Leader: Mike Wall
Assistant Coaches: Matt Fuerbringer and Robert Neilson
Sports Psychologist: Andrea Becker
Technical Coordinator: Nate Ngo
Athletic Trainer: Aaron Brock