The U.S. men's national volleyball team gets its first chance to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games at the FIVB World Cup this week in Japan.
The highlight of the team's 2015 season was a third-place finish in the FIVB World League, but third won't cut it at the World Cup. Only the top two finishing teams qualify for Rio. The World Cup format is a straight round-robin. Every team plays every other team once. For each team, that's 11 matches in 16 days.
The teams also have to travel during the tournament. The United States will play its first five matches in Hiroshima before moving on to Osaka and then finishing in Tokyo. The matches in Hiroshima and Tokyo will be live streamed on the FIVB You Tube Channel.
"The most challenging part about this tournament is the mental side; being able to reach peak performance day after day," U.S. coach John Speraw said.
Four of the top-five ranked teams will compete. No. 1 Brazil will not be at World Cup because as the Olympic host country, it cannot compete in qualifying tournaments. No. 2 Russia, No. 3 Poland and No. 4 Italy are all in Japan along with the No. 5 United States.
But lower-ranked teams should not be overlooked, Speraw said.
"I think the status of the men's game is that there are several teams, maybe 10 or more, that can beat you on any given night," Speraw said. "I know from watching (No. 15) Egypt that it's going to be a really challenging match for us (at World Cup). Egypt looks very good to me. That's a good example of a team that's not in the top rankings that we have to be careful of and respect."
The U.S. roster is the same one it used for the World League final round, with one exception. Outside hitter Thomas Jaeschke, who has had a strong rookie season, suffered an injury during the USA Volleyball Cup friendly matches against Brazil.
Although Jaeschke is with the team in Japan, he will not play in World Cup. Jayson Jablonsky will take his place.
Stanford grads Kawika Shoji and Erik Shoji are on the team, and Cardinal grad Matt Fuerbringer is an assistant coach.
Four players on this year's roster have competed in a previous World Cup: outside hitter/opposite Matt Anderson, outside hitter Paul Lotman and middle blockers David Lee and Max Holt.
The U.S. Men have medaled at the World Cup twice: in 1985 they won the gold medal and in 1991 they finished third.