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2 for 2? USA men in Tokyo for their Road to Paris Volleyball Qualifier

TJ DeFalco and his USA teammates hope to have a thumbs-up qualifying tournament/Volleyball World photo

The USA women are in.

Can the USA men follow suit at their Olympic qualifying tournament?

Coach John Speraw’s squad is in Tokyo for the Road to Paris Volleyball Qualifier and, over the course of nine days, will play Egypt, Finland, Türkiye, Tunisia, Slovenia, Serbia and Japan.

“It’s really challenging physically and emotionally,” Speraw said. “Certainly we will need to physically manage the players and likely utilize the entirety of our roster to make this a successful tournament.”

Success, of course, means finishing in the top two at Yoyogi National Stadium, because the top two teams will get berths in the 12-country 2024 Paris Olympics.

The USA roster is a battle-tested group of veterans.

“I expect everyone to have a role,” Speraw said.

That includes two setters, Micah Christenson and Micah Ma’a. 

Matt Anderson and Kyle Ensing are the two opposites.

The middles are Jeff Jendryk, Max Holt, Taylor Averill and David Smith.

The outside hitters are Aaron Russell, TJ DeFalco, Thomas Jaeschke and Garrett Muagututia.

Erik Shoji and Kyle Dagostino are the liberos.

Sixteeen players traveled to Tokyo, but only 14 will play in the tournament. The two not participating are setter Josh Tuaniga and opposite Jake Hanes.

“Because this is such a physically grueling tournament, depth will matter for all the teams and I feel like that’s an advantage for us,” Speraw said. “We’re not as young as we were when we won the 2015 World Cup with 11 matches in 15 days, but I do think we’re experienced in the format, and, with the development of our bench and our depth, I have a lot of confidence going to them if we need to throughout the course of the tournament.”

Earlier this summer, the USA men competed in Volleyball Nations League and then the NORCECA Continental Championship. At VNL, they lost in the final to Poland. In the NORCECA, the Americans won for the first time since 2017, beating Canada in the final.

“I’m not sure the casual fans understand all the tournaments we have in the summer, so I think it’s important to say that VNL happens on the front end of the summer every year, every couple of years we have our (NORCECA) zone tournaments, which we just complete, and on the back end is a major international tournament. Last year it was World Championships, this year it’s the Olympic qualifier. And next year is the Olympic Games.

“So this is our third and arguably the most important of the summer because an Olympic bid is on the line.”

There are also eight-team qualifiers at the same time in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, and Xi’an, China. 

The USA is Pool B. Pool A in Brazil includes the host country, Cuba, Czechia, Germany, Iran, Italy, Qatar and Ukraine. Pool C in China includes the host country, Argentina, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Mexico, Netherlands and Poland.

France, the defending Tokyo Olympics champion, gets an automatic bid as the host country.

FIVB Road To Paris Olympic Qualifier in Tokyo

(All times Eastern)

Saturday, September 30, vs. Egypt, 3 a.m.
Sunday, October 1, vs. Finland, 3 a.m.
Tuesday, October 3, vs. Türkiye, 3 a.m.
Wednesday, October 4, vs. Tunisia, 3 a.m.
Friday, October 6, vs. Slovenia, 3 a.m.
Saturday, October 7, vs. Serbia, 3 a.m.
Sunday, October 8, vs. Japan, 6:25 a.m.

All matches can be seen on Volleyball World TV. Use “VOLLEYBALLMAG” for a discount.