Volleyverse reporter Zuzanna Dulnik caught up with Team USA and Berlin Recycling Volleys Paul Lotman recently to discuss a wide range of issues including the FIVB World Cup triumph, the team to beat in Rio, Poland’s Olympic pain and the upcoming club season.
Volleyverse: Congratulations on winning the World Cup and qualifying for the Olympic Games, but it seems that World Cup formula is the only one that would make a silver medal taste almost as good?
Lotman: Maybe that’s a question better suited for the Italians to answer … I think goal for every tournament is to be standing on the podium, listening to the USA anthem, watching our flag being raised above all others. But yes, you are correct, qualification was one of our goals, but the main goal was to win the World Cup.
Volleyverse: You dominated the World Cup throughout the whole tournament, but earlier in the summer you missed the chance to play for the World League gold. Do you feel like that was an extra motivation for the team to finish the season with a different medal?
Lotman: We learned a lot about ourselves from World League and grew very much as a team. The semifinal against Serbia was a painful loss, we had many chances to win the match and didn’t take them. Matches like that only make you stronger, so I think it made us a better team moving forward through the summer.
Volleyverse: What do you think of the new rule that wins-ratio determines the winner? It was used in both World League and World Cup. Did you feel it more after your only loss in the tournament, against Poland?
Lotman: In a tournament such as the World Cup, this formula seems like the most fair way to rank the teams. With the old system one team could potentially have less wins but more points and still win the tournament, to me this never seemed right. This is a big reason why we started the same seven players for the entire tournament, because every set was extremely valuable. It put much more pressure on us to keep our focus for the entire tournament, but we knew that’s what it would take to qualify for Rio.
Volleyverse: Your coach, John Speraw, has been trying different variations in the squad, with Matt Anderson playing on a different position and bringing Thomas Jaeschke and Aaron Russell straight from NCAA. Do you feel like he found the ultimate 14 players for this cycle?
Lotman: It’s difficult to say, our team is always changing and maybe a new star will rise from the NCAA next year. I have been amazed how quickly Jaeschke, Russell, Sander, and Christenson have made the jump from NCAA to professional, while making such a huge impact on our team and international volleyball.
Volleyverse: This squad has made history a few times already: two World League medals in a row, winning the World Cup after 30 years. Do you think the team is ready to continue winning streak in Rio?
Lotman: We are definitely headed in the right direction. This team’s potential is extremely high, and hopefully with a good professional season in Italy and Poland for our young players we will be even stronger next year.
Volleyverse: A number of teams have reached the podiums of major events in the last two years. USA and Italy qualified to Rio 2016 and can focus on preparations, but there are still nine teams to join you there. Canada and Argentina seem to be main favourites to qualify from their continental qualifiers, while the toughest fight will happen at the 2016 Olympic Games European Qualification in Berlin and World Olympic Qualification Tournament in Japan. Who do you think will join you at the Olympics?
Lotman: After seeing how sad my Polish friends were after World Cup, I hope Poland wins the European qualifier and their Olympic berth to Rio. They played an amazing tournament and it’s unfortunate that only two teams qualified. That being said, with France, Serbia, Germany, Bulgaria, Russia going after the same goal … it won’t be easy, but I wish them luck.
Volleyverse: Based on your predictions then who will be the main threat in Rio?
Lotman: Brazil, playing in Rio, for the Olympics?! If they are not the favorite then I don’t know who is.
Volleyverse: You as well as your teammates are very active on social media. Fans can see the tournament a little bit from behind-the-scenes and players’ perspective, especially if the event is happening on the other side of the world. It does have an impact on volleyball’s popularity as well. Do you think that all players, clubs and federations should use Twitter and Instagram as a tool to integrate with the fans?
Lotman: Not all players like social media but I know our team does. It gives us a way to connect with family, friends and fans around the world. Volleyball is not so popular is USA so we don’t get the same attention that for example Polish stars get, maybe this is why our team is so active on Twitter and Instagram. I think it’s a great tool to spread the popularity of volleyball, so why not encourage players to use it to connect with fans?
Volleyverse: Can you tell us a little bit about your goals with your new team Berlin Recycling Volleys?
Lotman: My goal is to try and integrate with the team as quickly as possible and give everything I have in order for us to be successful. We have a difficult Champions League pool so it will be a great challenge for us to advance to the play-offs and further.