US men's volleyball plays Iran in 4-match series
Coming off a gold medal in the FIVB World League, the U.S. men's national volleyball team is readying for the USA Volleyball Cup, a four-game series against Iran in Southern California that starts this weekend.
The matches are part of a tuneup for the FIVB World Championships later this year. And they're a good chance for coach John Speraw to assess players before the push to the Rio Olympics in 2016.
''Our big goal for the summer is to win the World Championships. While the World League title certainly gets this team off to a really wonderful and perhaps surprising result, I think they still all realize how much we need to improve and continue on this path toward potentially getting to Rio and medaling there,'' Speraw said.
The series opens Saturday night at USC's Galen Center, then moves to the Anaheim Convention Center on Aug. 14, San Diego State on Aug. 15 and UC Irvine on Aug. 16.
The final match was supposed to be held at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion, but had to be moved because of flooding caused by a water main break that spilled 20 million gallons of water onto campus on July 29.
Speraw is also coach of the Bruins.
For the USA Volleyball Cup, Speraw's roster includes four players with Trojan ties, including outside hitter Tony Ciarelli, setters Micah Christenson and Riley McKibbon and opposite Murphy Troy. Christenson is a senior at USC.
''These matches in particular allow us the opportunity to play some guys that didn't get a very good look in the World League,'' he said. ''I'm actually going to be starting a few different Trojans as we go into Galen for the first match. I thought, we're going to have to look at these guys, why not look at them in a comfortable environment?''
He added with a laugh: ''So yeah, this weekend there will be a bunch of Trojans out there being coached by a Bruin.''
London Olympians Matt Anderson and David Smith are also on the USAV Cup roster.
The U.S. men are currently ranked No. 4 in the world by the sport's international governing body. Iran is ranked No. 11, but has been steadily improving in international play for the past several years in a concerted effort to play for the first time in the Olympics. The team won the 2013 Asian Championship.
Iran finished fourth in the World League and is also preparing for the FIVB World Championships to be held in Poland starting Aug. 30.
The team was stunned last week by the death of assistant coach Hossein Madani, 43, from pancreatitis and lung disease.
The team also was embroiled in a controversy this summer when Iranian officials banned women from attending and covering an opening round World League match against Italy at Azadi Sports Complex in Tehran.
The Iranian team was swept by the United States in the final round of World League play in Florence, Italy, in July.