United States of America
U.S. Men’s national
is looking to regain some of the shine that it had
when it won three straight Olympic medals in Los
Angeles (gold in 1984), Seoul, South Korea (gold in
1988) and Barcelona, Spain (bronze in 1992).
To get to that point, however, Hall of Fame
Doug Beal needs more consistency from a relatively
young team that went 19-17 in 2002 and finished ninth
at the World Championships in Argentina.
At that tournament the men won their first four
matches, including a come-from-behind five-set
thriller over eventual world champion Brazil, and was
in a perfect position to reach the quarterfinals. But
a crushing five-set loss to Greece and a four-game
Serbia and Montenegro
in the final match of the second round ended the
season for Team USA.
“Winning that match (against Greece) would have
automatically put us in the top eight, which would
have met our goals,” recalls Beal, who was also the
head coach of the gold-medal-winning team in 1984. “We
would have been feeling pretty good about ourselves.
But our inconsistency prevented that from happening.”
The men, ranked No. 13 in the world to start this new
year, showed glimpses of its potential to return to
the upper echelon of the
world last season, posting wins over three of the top
four teams in the world (No. 2 Brazil, No. 3
and No. 4 Italy).
losses to teams like No. 20 Bulgaria, No. 20 Canada
and No. 19 Czech Republic revealed the dark side of
the team’s potential.
“What we showed last summer was we have the ability to
play at a very high level,” said Beal. “Now we have to
show that we have not only the ability to play at that
level, but the maturity and the consistency to play at
that level for every match of a long tournament,
whether it’s the NORCECA championships, or the World
Cup, or the Olympic Games. We have to play at a very
high level for a much longer period of time than we
did in Argentina at the World Championships.”
Young talent like Brook Billings, Clay Stanley, Jim
Polster, Adam Naeve, Dave McKienzie, Reid Priddy and
Chris Seiffert all emerged as possible players that
Beal can depend on this coming season. It’s just a
matter of how much their maturity and skill levels
have developed since the end of last season.
Beal is also hopeful that 2000 Olympians like Kevin
Barnett, Tom Hoff, George Roumain and Andy Witt can
recover from a variety of injuries they have suffered
in the past two years to return to the squad and make
an impact along with his younger players.
“With the maturity and growth of guys like Stanley and
Naeve and Priddy and Polster and Billings and
McKienzie—and with the return of a Hoff, a Barnett, a
Witt, a Roumain, a (Brandon) Taliaferro—we could be a
force, I think,” said Beal. “Obviously I am hoping we
can get every one of those guys in the gym.
Realistically, however, I doubt all of those players
will be healthy or available. We have a lot of
(people) that may not play, but if one or two of them
do with the group we had last summer, we can be a
substantially different, a substantially stronger, a
substantially better team.”