It seemed like a goliath expectation for volleyball maven David Hunt to motivate a group of recent college graduates, as well as a high school junior, to put in hours of sweat to qualify for an once-in-a-lifetime tournament that they'll most likely not be a part of.
But the young coach gained the trust of his youth-riddled roster, one full of players with outside chances of making the 2016 Olympic roster, and the U.S. women's team won gold after beating Panama at the FIVB World Championship NORCECA Qualifying Tournament at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center.
The 12-member volleyball squad showed nerves in the first set of the championship match, but settled in for a breezy 25-18, 25-5, 25-5 win to qualify "a more veteran" U.S. women's roster to the 2014 FIVB Women's World Championship field.
All that was left for Hunt's team Sunday? Goodbyes mostly.
"Most of these girls will go home now," said Hunt, who is a resident coach with USA Volleyball, but usually is not on the national team's staff for tournaments. "Some will play overseas and Hayley Hodson will go back to California to finish high school. . They were an amazing group to work with."
Hunt had his players' approval as well. The 28-year-old coach has moved up in respects from the volleyball community in the past seven years, going from an assistant high school coach, to a collegiate video coordinator, to one of the most respected young coaches in the game.
He won over his current roster despite only working with them for 2? weeks prior to Sunday.
"He cares about you as a player and person," said former UCLA outside hitter Kelly Reeves, who had 12 kills and eight aces in the gold-medal game. "He's really good on a personal level with all of us."
It's not hard for Hunt to do this. Try to coach someone you can't verbally communicate with, he says.
Last year, Hunt resigned from his assistant coaching position at Pepperdine to serve the same role for the Japanese men's volleyball team. The experience, he says, helped him grow as a coach in ways he never thought possible.
"I think players know immediately if you care about them or not. It's not about what you say but your willingness to help them and your ability to make them better," said Hunt, who was let go after Japanese Volleyball did not think American coaches were the best fit for their national teams. "I learned that point no better than with a team I couldn't (verbally) communicate with."
Once his team got going Sunday, he again did not have to say much from the bench.
After a back-and-forth set to open the match, the U.S. overwhelmed Panama, scoring 50 of the last 60 points. Former University of Texas hitter Bailey Webster had 14 kills and a block and Chloe Ferrari, a graduate of San Diego, added five kills and two aces in the U.S. women's team's fourth straight win at this year's tournament.
A more veteran group led by U.S. women's coach Karch Kiraly and his staff will take it from here, preparing for the world championships that will be played in Italy on Sept. 23-Oct. 12.
"It's been a privilege," Hunt said on his way out of the OTC.