Two matches into the biggest tournament of their young careers, members of the USA Men’s Volleyball team had only won a set. Battered, exhausted and mentally fatigued, the team relied on each other to hold strong mentally before the third match against host-country Brazil.
“From then on, it’s been do or die. It’s win or go home,” said Olympic Rookie Outside Hitter Thomas Jaeschke. “I think once we’re in a hole, our mentality changed. Something that impacted the team and I greatly was the fact that Reid Priddy has been wearing our medal-ceremony outfit to every match, something that you are not supposed to wear unless we’re going to the medal ceremony. He’s been wearing it to every match with the idea that every match is the gold-medal match because if we lose, we’re going home at this point.
“I like that mentality; it’s something that we need to take into every match.”
The team rebounded and defeated Brazil 3-1. The victory kept the team alive in its pool, and players say it rejuvenated their spirits.
“It was a mentality shift for us, beating Brazil,” Jaeschke said. “I think we have been fighting a lot harder. It’s been about the little points for us. Volleyball isn’t a game of perfection, and I think we were trying to make it a game of perfection. We now scrap for every point, and even though there are a lot of ugly points and rallies, you have to grind them out.”
The grind and scrappiness from the Brazil match carried over into the team’s next match against France. Rallies lasting several minutes saw both teams hurtling over barriers and diving at full extension to come up with every loose ball possible.
“We [the coaching staff] continuously shared our belief with the team that we could come out and beat Brazil,” said John Speraw, the team’s head coach. “To come back from that match and refocus on France, then play like how we did against France, is really impressive to me. I think that says a lot with a younger team. I think it says a lot about their heart and to be able to refocus and stay true to the path.”
The team must now reset their focus to prepare for a quarterfinal matchup against Poland, who qualified second in Pool B with a 4-1 record, giving them 12 points. Poland got the better of the United States in the last meeting between the two countries beating them 3-1 in the 2015 FIVB World Cup in Japan. Thomas Jaeschke currently plays professional volleyball for Polish club Asseco Resovia Rzeszów. Current Poland team captain, Piotr Nowakowski, along with setter Fabian Drzyzga were teammates of Jaeschke’s for the 2015-2016 Assecon Resovia Rzeszów season.
Christian Schinbeckler 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.