Eight Olympic medalists highlight U.S. men’s volleyball team for Tokyo

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The 12 players who will seek the United States’ first consecutive Olympic men’s volleyball medals in nearly three decades were named on Monday.

The squad is led by opposite/outside hitter Matt Anderson and middle blocker David Smith, who will compete at their third Olympic Games. At 36, Smith is the oldest member of the team.

Anderson, whose first child – son Jamie – was born last year, has been the U.S. men’s leading scorer every season for the past decade. The 34-year-old has also racked up several international accolades including MVP of the 2019 Volleyball Nations League and best opposite at the 2018 VNL and 2018 World Championship.

Unlike the U.S. women’s team, which was named last week and included eight first-time Olympians, the men’s is more seasoned with eight returning Olympians.

In addition to Anderson and Smith, the following six athletes return from the team that earned bronze in Rio five years ago: setters Micah Christenson and Kawika Shoji, middle blocker Max Holt, outside hitters Thomas Jaeschke and Taylor Sander, and libero Erik Shoji (Kawika’s brother).

Making their Olympic debut in Tokyo next month are opposite Kyle Ensing, outside hitters T.J. DeFalco and Garrett Muagututia, and middle blocker Mitch Stahl. DeFalco, the youngest of the squad at 24, competed in beach volleyball at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games before joining the indoor national team the following year.

2016 Olympic bronze medalist Aaron Russell and Ben Patch, the team’s leading scorer in 2019 Volleyball Nations League play, were named alternates, along with Jeff Jendryk, Brenden Sander (Taylor’s brother), Josh Tuaniga, Taylor Averill, Dustin Watten and Kyle Russell.

“We had some really difficult decisions to make,” head coach John Speraw said. “Team USA over the last four or five years has become deeper. The discussions about whom to take on this team involved the performances during VNL as well as what these players bring as teammates and competitors.”

Speraw led the team to the bronze medal in 2016. He will be joined in Tokyo by assistant coaches Brian Thornton, a 2012 Olympian, Matt Fuerbringer, a former beach player, and Mike Wall, who with Fuerbringer also held the role in Rio.

The last time the U.S. men won back-to-back Olympic medals was when they claimed two golds and a bronze from 1984 to 1992.

They continued a medal-winning trajectory after Rio, collecting bronze medals at the 2018 World Championship, 2018 VNL and 2019 World Cup, plus the silver at the 2019 VNL.

Returning to play this year following the pandemic, however, has led to a tumultuous season.

Still ranked third in the world behind Brazil and Poland, the U.S. is currently 10th in the VNL standings with a 4-5 record. Six matches remain before the Final.

Anderson returned to national team play on June 4 for the first time in 21 months.

The U.S. men begin Olympic play on July 24, a day after the Opening Ceremony, with their first Pool B game against world No. 4 France.

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