When the USA Men’s Volleyball team’s bus arrived at the Pyramid before their Saturday evening NORCECA Olympic Qualifying gold medal match against Canada, an unfamiliar sight greeted them: hundreds of USA fans, decked out in patriotic colors, cheering on their arrival. Inside, the sold-out Pyramid (announced attendance of 4,700) was overwhelmingly partisan, roaring in delight at the USA Men’s Volleyball team became the USA Olympic Men’s Volleyball team by sweeping the Canadians, 28-26, 25-18, 25-20, to answer the call of London.
“It’s a special, special thing,” said head coach Alan Knipe, currently on leave from Long Beach State. “This is what I wanted to leave Long Beach to do. Today allows us the opportunity to go experience that.”
You must understand that this is not usually the way things go for national teams. In America, where pro sports drive national interest, teams wearing the nation’s colors don’t get nearly the attention they do in foreign countries. If the USA Volleyball team plays Poland in Chicago, for example, they’re almost certainly going to be heckled by a pro-Polish crowd.
“I really want to thank the fans of Southern California and especially Long Beach,” said Knipe. “It doesn’t surprise me at al that they came out. It’s the greatest environment I’ve ever been a part of as a part of USA Volleyball. The crowd inspired our guys, and we can’t thank them enough.”
Making the qualifying process even more special was the fact that it happened in the Walter Pyramid, where Knipe played and coached, and where three of the players on his active roster also played. One, David Lee, was named Blocker of the Tournament for shutting down the most opponent attacks. Lee had been overseas nonstop for several months before returning home to play in his old gym, with his nation’s colors on his uniform, and said he could barely remember if he was supposed to be speaking Russian, or Italian.
What a nice surprise, then, to walk into the Pyramid and see a larger-than-life photo of himself on the Pyramid’s southern wall, along with other 49er greats. “I mean, it’s nice to see the picture of me with long hair,” he cracked. “It brings back great memories. I had my whole family here, it’s nice to be so close to home.”
The USA closed the tournament in impressive fashion. They went 5-0 in the week of play in the Pyramid, and only lost one set en route to punching their ticket to London. On Saturday, they were led by 13 kills from Matt Anderson and a dozen from captain Clay Stanley. Lee had five blocks to lead the team, and the USA had 11 blocks to Canada’s 5, and four aces, two of them coming from Stanley.
The USA team is flying to Italy for World League matches beginning in a few weeks, before a three-week practice session that will precede their trip to the 2012 Olympics. Follow along with the team’s journey, all the way to London, by staying with us for full coverage.