Four years ago in Beijing, coach Hugh McCutcheon led the U.S. men's volleyball team to an emotionally charged gold-medal victory over defending champion Brazil.
The U.S. women are his project in London.
The women have never won gold in indoor volleyball, an Olympic sport since 1964. In 2008 they came close, but fell to Brazil in the final.
Former University of Hawaii star Clay Stanley, shown during a match against Serbia at the Beijing Olympics, underwent knee surgery in December, but was named MVP of an Olympic qualifying tournament earlier this month.
AP file photo
Many believe this will be the year for the Americans. The team is No. 1 in the world rankings, and qualified early for the Olympics by claiming silver at the 2011 World Cup in Japan.
The roster likely will consist of many of the players who competed in Beijing, including outside hitter Logan Tom and setter Lindsey Berg, a Punahou School graduate. Promising newcomer Destinee Hooker is also vying for one of the 12 spots on the team, which is expected to be announced in early July.
"You don't back-door your way into being the best at anything. You have to deal with the fact that there are a lot of strong teams out there and you've got to be comfortable in that environment. That's not something we're afraid of, that's something we embrace," McCutcheon said. "We'll work as hard as we can to be the best we can come London, and we'll either be good enough or we won't. But it's not going to be a whole lot about who is on the other side of the net. It's going to be about stepping out on the floor and playing USA volleyball to the best of our ability."
McCutcheon, a New Zealander, will leave to become the coach at the University of Minnesota after the Olympics.
The Beijing Games started with tragedy for McCutcheon. His father-in-law was murdered at a popular tourist attraction in China just before the opening ceremonies. He left the men's team briefly to be with his family, but rejoined his players in their undefeated march to the gold.
The Brazilian women are ranked No. 2 in the word, and in the same pool as the U.S., China, Serbia, South Korea and Turkey. Italy, Russia, Japan, Algeria, the Dominican Republic and host Britain make up the other six-team pool.
The top four teams to emerge out of each pool will advance to the quarterfinals. The medal matches at Earls Court are set for Aug. 11.
The U.S. men, now playing under coach Alan Knipe, are looking to defend their gold medal but it won't be easy. They're also in the same pool with Brazil, currently No. 1 in the world, perennial powerhouse Russia, Serbia, Germany and Tunisia. The other pool has Italy, Poland, Argentina, Bulgaria, Australia and Britain.
The Brazilians and Americans, who battled to five sets in the Beijing final, both have a key player coming off surgery.
Gilberto Godoy Fiho, known universally as Giba, has a titanium rod in his left leg to help heal a tibia fracture. Giba is one of the sport's most decorated players and helped lead Brazil to the gold medal in the Athens Games in 2004.
U.S. opposite Clay Stanley, the most valuable player in Beijing, had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in December. The former University of Hawaii star had less than two weeks with the U.S. national team to prepare for the continental Olympic qualifying tournament held earlier this month in California. The Americans rolled through the event, sweeping Canada in the final, and Stanley was named tournament MVP.
"Four years is a long time, teams change, dynamics change, coaches change," Stanley said afterward. "Each year you (have got to) put something together and find new rhythm with a new team. Usually, the fourth year leading up to the Olympics is the time that these teams come together and gel and I think we're starting to do that right now."
OLYMPIC VOLLEYBALL POOLS
World ranking in parentheses
United States (1)
South Korea (13)
Dominican Rep. (9)
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United States (6)