London 2012: 5 Must-See Players in the Men's Olympic Volleyball Tournament
Four years after Team USA’s dramatic upset over No. 1 Brazil in men's volleyball at the Beijing Olympics, the storylines leading up to this year’s Games are plenty.
Poland is on the rise. The U.S. is searching for the right mix to defend its gold medal. Brazil wants revenge.
But at the end of the day it all comes down to the players who step on the court. Here are five volleyball players you have to watch this summer in London.
Donald Suxho/Kevin Hansen- USA, Setter
Suxho (No. 7) looks like the favorite to replace Lloy Ball on Team USA.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
If it weren’t obvious already, Team USA is not the same team without former star Lloy Ball, who retired from the national team after the 2008 Olympics.
Coach Alan Knipe has spent a significant amount of time searching for Ball’s replacement. Suxho started in the NORCECA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, which may give him the upper hand.
Whoever gets the starting nod will have the pressure of commanding his team back to gold and replacing an all-time great.
Krzysztof Ignaczak: Poland, Libero
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In the FIVB World League, Ignaczak had more attempts (204), excellent returns (99) and was second with 79 in-play returns while only committing 26 faults. That’s a success rate of 87.4 percent.
Only Finland’s Pasi Hyvarinen was within 20 attempts with 187, which shows you how much Poland relies on Ignaczak’s defense.
The No. 4-ranked team needs a similar performance in the Olympic Games to stop offensive powers like Brazil and Russia.
Maxim Mikhaylov: Russia, Outside Hitter
Reigning FIVB World League MVP Maxim Mikhaylov (No. 17)
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The reigning 2011 FIVB World League MVP will be looking for revenge after watching his final attack get blocked in the semifinals in Beijing four years ago.
The 24-year-old dropped 28 kills against the Americans in the 3-2 loss. Since then he’s only continued to dominate at all levels.
In the World League he tallied 82 kills (second), 16 blocks (first) and four aces on his way to 102 points. Only Poland’s Kurek Bartosz had a higher total, with 103.
Mikhaylov spearheads a very dynamic offense, which featured four of the top 10 scorers in the World League. Look for more of the same in London.
Matt Anderson: USA, Outside Hitter
Anderson celebrating his 2008 NCAA Tournament Championship
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He’s the youngest member of the team at 25 years old and already he’s made a name for himself on this squad.
The Penn State grad spent more time on the court than anyone in Red, White and Blue and earned himself “Best Spiker” at the NORCECA games with 52 kills. In the FIVB World Cup he led the team with 158 points on 139 kills and was third on the team with 125 digs in 2011.
Team USA is looking at its future with life after Reid Priddy and Clay Stanley, who are in their mid-30s, and Anderson has the chance to prove that he is just that.
Wilfredo Leon Venero: Cuba, Outside Hitter
Wilfredo Leon Venero Highlights
This kid (he’s barely out of high school) finished fifth in the World League in scoring with 63 total points.
Venero's known more for his scoring (54 kills) and serves (six aces) than his defense (three blocks), but the youngster can out-leap just about anybody.
Oh, by the way, he turns 19 in July. An Olympic medal would be quite the birthday present for Wilfredo, who we could be seeing at many more Olympic Games.