May 15, 2014 Updated: May 16, 2014 at 9:14 am
World-class athletes are competing this weekend at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs with aspirations of eventually qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The eight-team FIVB World Championship NORCECA Qualifying Tournament began in earnest Thursday at SportsCenter I at the OTC, and the United States' men's and women's volleyball teams both saw action. The competition is a qualifier for the men's and women's FIVB World Championships.
"It's great to have our teams come back to Colorado Springs after the years they were training here and to have an international event here," said Tom Pingel, senior director of events and high performance for USA Volleyball.
The event is a collaborative effort between USA Volleyball, the Colorado Springs Sports Corp., the El Pomar Foundation and the City of Colorado Springs.
"It's just part of our DNA to help with the Olympic movement, so we're thrilled to be a part of it," said Sports Corp. President and CEO Tom Osborne. "To have eight international teams coming here to compete in world-class volleyball, it's part of our mission. This is a big deal."
The four-day tournament is a chance for players to gain international experience against top-flight talent. It will help Team USA coaches evaluate players' progress and development as they select members of the world championship teams.
"It's quite important," U.S. men's national team coach John Speraw said of the tournament. "The scores don't matter as much to me. I'm out there watching how some of our guys prepare, how they're working together and if we're mindful of what we're working on as a team on our side of the net.
"The puzzle (of our team) continues to be built as we work hopefully toward Rio."
Pingel feels good about Team USA's progress as a whole at this point as the programs begin to build for the Rio Games.
"Once you get into the second year (after), which this is, you start ramping up and looking toward Rio," Pingel said. "Our depth is as good, if not better, than it's ever been on the men's and women's side."
Victories by the U.S. squads this weekend would secure them spots in the world championships. The men's will be held Aug.?30-Sept.?21 at six cities in Poland, while the women's event is slated for Sept.?23-Oct.?12 in Italy.
"Qualifying for the world championships is our ultimate goal, because it's the major event on the calendar this year," Pingel said. "It lets a lot of young athletes play important matches that are important to USA Volleyball."
The U.S. women defeated Guatemala 25-10, 25-18, 25-11 and the men handled St. Lucia 25-13, 25-9, 25-9 on the first day. Pool play continues through Saturday, with the gold- and bronze-medal matches taking place on Sunday.