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For national coaches, every year's an Olympic year

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, July 9, 2010, at 12:06 a.m.

To some, four years is an eternity.

For U.S. men's volleyball coach Alan Knipe, four years is an instant.

"When you look at it, four years might seem like a really long time," Knipe said. "But once you start going through the daily grind, it goes by in a hurry. You start wishing you had more days."

Knipe began appreciating time the day he took over as leader of U.S. men's volleyball two years ago. He inherited a team fresh off a gold-medal performance in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and from the second he started, he knew his task was to get the squad back to the medal stand in 2012.

To achieve such a goal, he figured the more time the better.

"The No. 1 goal for us to do well in, and be playing our best ball for, (is) the Olympics," Knipe said. "Every day is an opportunity to get there. When you're in the middle of a tournament, how you train and how you plan for success, we're always mindful of 2012."

Halfway into his four-year commitment, Knipe thinks the effort has been good. But results have not come easy. The Americans have lost three times during FIVB World League pool play, and need to sweep Russia in Wichita this weekend to have any chance of advancing to the tournament's finals.

Reid Priddy, a team captain and outside hitter, says there are many understandable reasons for those struggles.

The team's long-time setter and four-time Olympian, Lloy Ball, is no longer on the roster, and new faces are brought in for practice every month. Injuries and personal matters have made it even harder to keep the squad together for long periods of time.

"Alan is a good guy, but he's had a lot against him the last few months," Priddy said. "He's had to deal with all these random things, and it's hard to build a team with that going on."

Knipe agrees his first two years on the job have been filled with challenges.

"I stepped into a program that had won the Olympics, but the team has changed significantly," said Knipe, who previously coached at Long Beach State. "A lot of them are brand new, and the team really is dramatically different. We've had young guys trying to make the team and some of the older guys taking time off. There's been a lot of transition and it's been difficult.

"Because of a lot of the things we've dealt with I don't think we're exactly where we want to be. We're not as cohesive as I'd like. We have a little bit of an all-star team feel. But we're starting to have a much better idea of what our guys are capable of, and how to manage a tournament like the World League. Once it's over and we have four months to work under the same roof, we're going to see some improvement."

Priddy looks forward to those training sessions. Like Knipe, he sees the potential in his teammates and believes they are capable of another strong run at the Olympics. Even if the past few months have made others think otherwise.

"I would say it's unfair to give any sort of rating based on the results," Priddy said. "Alan needs to get some time with us in practice behind closed doors first."

That will take time, of course.

Knipe has two years before the next Olympics. He won't waste a moment.

"It's all about attention to detail," Knipe said. "You always want to be improving. Every drill in every practice has meaning. It will add up in the end. We're constantly moving toward this goal over four years, and no point is too small. No effort is too small. It will either be enough or it won't."

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