Rio de Janeiro (BSU at The Games) – Beginning pool play with two losses wasn’t the way the USA Men’s Volleyball team wanted to start the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Looking back, Reid Priddy, outside hitter and five-time Olympian, thinks being put into that situation is what they needed to respond.
“I think that’s where we need to be: with our backs against the wall,” Priddy said. “We’re not a front-runner, and I don’t think that we’re good enough yet being a front-runner.
“Being the underdog has brought out the best volleyball we have seen in this group.”
Since then, the US Men haven’t lost an Olympic match, bringing them into contention for a potential quarterfinals appearance. They defeated both host-country Brazil and France in four sets following their first two losses.
With back-to-back victories, they are one of four teams — USA, Brazil, France and Canada — who are tied with six points in Pool A. Mathematically, none of the Pool A teams, besides Italy (4-0, 12 points), have advanced to the single-elimination tournament, making it a win-or-go-home scenario for each of them.
Advancement and ranking in the knockout stage to the eight-team tournament are established by the following:
While there is a possibility that the US Men can advance with a loss in their final preliminary match, Head Coach John Speraw is concerned about one thing.
“It doesn’t even really benefit us to look ahead (to the quarterfinals),” Speraw said. “We know that if we win, we’re in. So we just have to get a win.”
Mexico (0-4) is one of two winless teams in this year’s 12-team tournament, but that hasn’t changed Team USA’s mindset going into the final match of preliminaries.
There have been only four teams in this year’s tournament that the US Men haven’t played prior to the Olympic Games, and Mexico is one of those teams.
“We’re familiar with them, but we don’t play them too often,” Erik Shoji said. “They have nothing to lose. They haven’t had a win yet, and playing against us is always a big game for them. They’re going to go all out, so we have to be ready for them.”
With such a quick turnaround playing in matches, having familiarity with their opponents has been one advantage for Team USA.
“It’s a huge thing to know those teams because we don’t have that much time (to prepare),” Shoji said. “This tournament is always a little bit different, and even playing overseas against some of these people, you learn about them … You know when you don’t know the game plan or something, it’s nice to go back to something you already know.”
Each Olympic team competes every other day in the preliminaries rather than playing back-to-back nights in World League play.
While there is more time off in between matches, Speraw says that this year’s Olympics have been one of the most mentally taxing tournaments for him, and the single-elimination tournament hasn’t even started yet.
“I don’t remember the emotional taxation from the previous Olympics,” said Speraw, Olympic assistant coach in 2008 and 2012. “This (tournament) has been really emotionally draining, and so I’ve been concerned about that with the team… I’ve never seen players exert as much competitive energy in any volleyball match I’ve seen in my entire life. And this has happened not in the playoffs but every single pool play match.”
With the preliminaries completing tomorrow, Pool A is still wide open. Italy (4-0), will play Canada (2-2), and Brazil (2-2) will play France (2-2).
Team USA will play Mexico at 10:35 a.m. EST.
Robby General is a Ball State University student and writer for BSU at the Games, a group of 50 journalism students traveling from Muncie, Indiana, to Rio for the Olympic Games. Follow them at bsuatthegames.com, @bsuatthegames on Twitter and Instagram, and BSU at the Games on Facebook.