July 23, 2012

SI.com's writers will preview each event from the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Here, Beverly Oden looks ahead to women's indoor volleyball.

Destinee Hooker, USA: Hooker joined the national team after leading Texas to the NCAA finals in 2008, and she surprised coaches and players alike with the speed at which she took to the international game.


She quickly became one of the best, if not the best, player in the world and is a leading scorer for the Americans. With a 42-inch vertical leap, this dynamic 6'4" opposite hitter is practically unstoppable on offense.

Logan Tom, USA: Four-time Olympian Logan Tom is the glue that holds the American team together. A stabilizing force at outside hitter, Tom's impeccable ball control allows the U.S. to run a quick offense. Tom is a talented all-around player, so look for the veteran to be a team leader on the floor in London.

Sheilla Castro, Brazil: An opposite hitter who is one of the best all-around players in the world, Castro is the life and blood of the Brazilian team. She's constantly an offensive threat, thanks to her ability to attack well from both the front and back row. In her first Olympics in 2008, Castro helped lead Brazil to a gold medal, beating the U.S. team in the final.

Ekaterina Gamova, Russia: At 6'8", Gamova towers over her competitors; she moves well for her size and can hit over any block in the world. The four-time Olympian who leads the Russians in scoring helped her country to silver medals in 2000 and 2004. Though they lost in the quarterfinals in Beijing and are currently ranked No. 7 in the world, Gamova believes her team is capable of winning the gold in London.

The 2012 women's volleyball team is hands down the best collection of volleyball players the U.S. has ever put together. Ranked No. 1 in the world, this women's team is stacked with talent at every position -- their depth is their biggest strength. They've got youth and experience, and the team spent the last three years demolishing the competition at every opportunity. The team is so dominant that in early July they won the last major international competition before London with their back up squad, because the starters were resting up for the Olympics. This proves that their level of play stays high even when they bring in substitutes from the bench. The U.S. women have won two silver medals and a bronze but have never won a gold medal at the Olympics -- that is expected to change in London.

The U.S. team is head and shoulders above the competition, but their closest competitor is No. 2 Brazil. In Beijing, these two faced off in the gold medal match and Brazil took the victory in four sets. nit the tables turned in the last four years. With an influx of new talent to complement the veteran players, the Americans began to beat Brazil consistently and last November they unseated them as the new No. 1 team. The two will meet on July 30th in pool play but expect to see them match up again in the gold medal final.

No. 11 Turkey has made significant progress over the last year and a half, winning the European Qualifier (they took down No. 7 Russia in the semifinals) to become the first Turkish volleyball team (men or women) to qualify for the Olympics. In early July they beat No. 5 China to take third place in the last major international competition before the Olympics. Behind the attacking of their cagey opposite Neslihan Darnel, they have the potential to take some teams by surprise.

U.S.'s Destinee Hooker is a three-time NCAA Champion in the high jump. In 2009 she tied the indoor record when she cleared the bar at 6'6". If she was not on the volleyball team, she could have chosen to pursue an Olympic spot on the track and field team. ... USA middle blocker Danielle Scott-Arruda, 39, returns to the Olympics for the fifth time, making her the first volleyball player (male or female) to do so. ... Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon led the men's volleyball team to a gold medal in 2008. If he can lead the women to gold in London, he'll become the first volleyball coach to win consecutive gold medals with a men's and a women's team.

Aug. 11

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