Pair of Bruins Named to U.S. Men's National Team For VNL
The U.S. Men's National Team, ranked No. 3 in the world, and coached by UCLA's John Speraw is set to begin play in the 2021 FIVB Volleyball Nations League (VNL) on May 28-June 27 in Rimini, Italy. The year's VNL will be the U.S. Men's only official international competition prior to the Tokyo Olympic Games, which are scheduled to begin July 24.
Coach Speraw and his staff named a long-list roster of 19 players for the tournament on Tuesday, which included two Bruins, and is being held in a secure "bubble" with no fans. Fourteen players from the long list will be selected for each three-day segment of the preliminary round. Bruins Mitch Stahl (UCLA 2014-17) and Garrett Muagututia (UCLA 2007-10) have been chosen to represent their country in the competition. The year's VNL will be the U.S. Men's only official international competition prior to the Tokyo Olympic Games, which are scheduled to begin July 24.
"We are coming into this Olympic summer with much more experience than we did going into Rio," Speraw said about the strengths of this VNL roster. "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."
Eight Olympians returning from the 2019 VNL Final Round roster are: outside hitter Taylor Sander (2016), opposite Matt Anderson (2012, '16), middle blockers David Smith (2012, '16) and Max Holt (2016), setters Micah Christenson (2016) and Kawika Shoji (2016), libero Erik Shoji (2016) and outside hitter Thomas Jaeschke (2016). Three more players from the 2019 VNL Final Round roster are on the 2021 long list: middle blocker Jeff Jendryk, opposite Ben Patch and Muagututia. Six other players competed during the 2019 VNL preliminary round and/or other 2019 tournaments: setter Josh Tuaniga, outside hitters T.J. Defalco and Brenden Sander, middle blockers Taylor Averill and Stahl, opposite Kyle Ensing and libero Dustin Watten.
The U.S. Men have finished on the VNL podium in both 2019 (silver) and the inaugural year in 2018 (bronze). The 2020 edition was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As in past VNL editions, 16 men's teams will compete against each other 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."
The VNL will be broadcast in the United States on the FIVB's streaming service Volleyball World TV.