USA Volleyball men’s Olympic-team coach John Speraw has announced the 19 players that will comprise his roster for the 2021 FIVB Volleyball Nations League (VNL) on May 28-June 27 in Rimini, Italy. It is the team’s only official international competition before the Tokyo Olympics, set to begin July 24.
There are eight Olympians: Team captain and outside hitter Taylor Sander (2016); opposite Matt Anderson (2012, 2016), middle blockers David Smith (2012, 2016) and Max Holt (2016); setters Micah Christenson (2016) and Kawika Shoji (2016); libero Erik Shoji (2016) and outside hitter Thomas Jaeschke (2016). The Shojis are brothers.
Six other players competed during the 2019 VNL preliminary round and/or other 2019 tournaments, including setter Josh Tuaniga, outside hitters TJ Defalco and Brenden Sander, middle blockers Mitch Stahl and Taylor Averill, opposite Kyle Ensing and libero Dustin Watten. The roster also includes USA veterans in middle blocker Jeff Jendryk, opposite Ben Patch and outside hitter Garrett Muagututia. There is one newcomer in Ohio State product Jake Hanes. Outside hitter Aaron Russell, a 2016 Olympian and member of the 2019 USA VNL team, is still recovering from hip surgery.
Fourteen players from the long list will be selected for each three-day segment of the preliminary round. The tournament will be conducted in a secure “bubble” with no fans.
“We are coming into this Olympic summer with much more experience than we did going into Rio,” Speraw said. “So that’s a big strength and we also have some newer faces who weren’t with us last quad and I think that will have a positive impact on our VNL experience.”
The USA took bronze in 2018 and silver in 2019. There was no tournament last year.
According to USA Volleyball, 16 teams will compete in three-day round-robin segments during the five-week preliminary round May 28-June 23. Unlike the past, only the top four teams will advance to the final round. The semifinals will be played June 26 and the medal matches on June 27.
“VNL is always important, particularly this year when the team hasn’t had the opportunity to compete with each other in over a year,” Speraw said. “Every match the team gets to play with each other is crucial to maximize how we are playing going into Tokyo this summer.”