U.S. men’s beach, indoor teams face early Olympic struggles

[Editor’s note: Off the Block is partnering with Ball State at the Games to provide the volleyball community with in-depth coverage of the U.S. Men’s National Team as it competes for an Olympic gold medal.]

Robby General | Ball State at the Games

RIO DE JANEIRO — Even on his day off, U.S. beach volleyball player Casey Patterson surrounds himself with one of the most popular sports in Rio de Janeiro.


Away from his usual location on Copacabana Beach, Patterson went to Maracanãzinho Stadium to watch the U.S. Men’s National Team. While Patterson sat in the stands, watching Italy in four sets on Tuesday, it reminded him all too well of his two-set loss against Austria the previous day.

“Against Austria we had a situation similar to this match. We had some opportunities to win and take control, and we didn’t capitalize on it,” Patterson said.

Even with outside attacker Aaron Russell leading the way with 22 points on 19 kills, the United States was unable to pull out a victory against the Italians losing three sets each by two points. In addition, the United States (0-2, 0 points) remain tied for last place in Pool A and three points out of fourth place and the final quarterfinals berth.

U.S. coach John Speraw said was pleased with his team’s performance versus Italy after getting swept against Canada on Sunday.

“They were way better tonight [than against Canada]. I thought we were close,” Speraw said in a post-match interview. “This is our journey. It is what it is. This is the team. This is what we signed up for. We knew what we were getting into four years ago, and here we are. It’s a tough journey.”

While there are still matches to be played, both the indoor and beach duo of Patterson and Jake Gibb will need to win in order to make the elmination stage of their tournaments.

Patterson and Gibb are 1-1 with one pool-play match remaining. The U.S. men’s indoor team will play three more pool-play matches and will likely need to win at least two of those matches to have a chance to make the quarterfinals.

Patterson and Gibb finish competition against the Spanish duo of Adrian Collado Gavira and Pablo Herrera Allepuz. Each of the four teams in Pool F — Austria, United States, Spain and Qatar — have three points, making the Wednesday matchup the most important one of the beach tournament so far.

With a win, they will automatically advance to the round-of- 16 tournament, but with a loss, they risk being eliminated from the tournament.

Patterson said isn’t concerned, however, for himself or for the US men’s indoor team.

“If you’re going to lose matches, these are the times to lose them and save all of the big wins and clutch times for the playoffs,” Patterson said. “It’s the same situation with any sport — you lose and everyone gets so worried. They’ll be fine.”

This is much like the men’s indoor team, which needs to finish in the top four of its six-team pool to advance to the eight-team tournament.

After the loss to Italy, setter Micah Christenson was also positive.

“I’m proud of the way we fought and the way we played. We’re going to keep getting better,” the former USC All-American said. “I think the other night [versus Canada] was an anomaly. We’re a pretty good serving team, and we rely on our serve-and- block defense. I thought we did a good job of that.”

Much like eight of the players on the 12-man indoor team, Patterson has never competed in an Olympic Games. But the beach volleyball player said he came to learn from the indoor veterans, who know what it takes to win a gold medal.

“I’m just trying to soak up the Olympics and get inspired by these indoor guys and watch how they play under pressure,” Patterson said. “To learn from the guys who have won gold medals. David Lee — he’s a guy who has been amazing, and it is still amazing. … [Four-time Olympian] Reid Priddy is back and he brings a ton of experience, and he’s a guy who’s going to help these young guys through this situation.”

Patterson and Gibb will finish off their pool play against Spain at 9 a.m. (CST) Wednesday, and the U.S. men’s indoor team will the play host-country Brazil at 7:30 p.m. (CST).

Robby General is a Ball State University student and reporter for Ball State at the Games, a group of 50 journalism students traveling from Muncie, Indiana, to Rio for the Olympic Games. Follow them at bsuatthegames.com, @bsuatthegames on Twitter and Instagram, and BSU at the Games on Facebook.