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Meet the Men Representing Team USA on the Volleyball Court In Paris

Boasting nine returning Olympians, the U.S. Olympic men's volleyball team includes a man who was born nearly deaf, the son of an Olympic athlete, and two men from the same small Illinois town. 

By Caitlin Schunn

The U.S. Men’s Olympic Volleyball Team has only one goal for the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics: bring home the gold —something that hasn’t been done in 16 years. It’s a dream that seems possible with a roster that is the “oldest and most experienced in program history,” according to NBC Sports.

Nine of the 12 players on the roster are returning Olympians — a record for any U.S. men’s or women’s Olympic team. The roster also has an average age of 32 years old, which breaks the record for oldest U.S. Olympic men’s or women’s volleyball team.

Head coach John Speraw will also be at his third Olympic games, tying a record for a U.S. men’s volleyball head coach.

RELATED: See Team USA's Medal-Worthy Olympic Uniforms and Gear Ahead of the Summer Games

So what’s at stake in Paris? Redemption. The U.S. men’s volleyball team was eliminated in group play in Tokyo in 2021 for the first time since the 2000 Sydney games. And the men are currently ranked No. 2 in the world behind Poland — who defeated the U.S. in the quarterfinals at the world championship in 2022.

Here’s a look at the roster putting it all on the line in Paris.

Team United States during Men's volleyball at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

Matt Anderson

One of the most seasoned veterans on the team, 37-year-old Matt Anderson will be competing in his fourth Olympics. He was the youngest player during his Olympic debut on the 2012 London team at the age of 25. Since then, he's won a bronze medal with the team at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, but was part of a squad that failed to win past the group play stage at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. This time around, he has hit sights set on gold in Paris.

“In our gym, you can’t have an off-day,” he said in an interview with Olympics.com. “I just think there’s a quiet confidence about this team that when we step in the gym, we like our chances against anybody in the world.”

Standing at a tall 6-foot, 10-inches, he’ll play in the opposite position during the games.

David Smith

39-year-old David Smith will be a record holder when he competes in Paris, breaking Reid Priddy’s record as the oldest American man to play indoor volleyball at an Olympics, according to NBC Sports. Together, he and Anderson will tie the record of four U.S. Olympic men’s indoor volleyball appearances held by Priddy and Lloy Ball.

Smith was born nearly deaf, with 80 to 90 percent hearing loss, and relies on hearing aids and lip reading to communicate. But that hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of the most seasoned Olympic athletes of all time.

“Sports were definitely a confidence booster for me,” he told the Denver Post. “It was something I thrived at, despite having quote unquote ‘a disadvantage.’ I think for me personally, that was great for my mental understanding of who I am and what I can do, but I think it was also a unique way of me integrating myself with the normal hearing world.”

At a height of 6-foot, 7-inches, he’ll be a middle blocker for Team USA.

Micah Christenson

Paris will be 31-year-old Micah Christenson’s third Olympic games. Volleyball is in his blood: his mother, Charlene, played volleyball for the University of Hawai’i, where she won three national championships and was named a two-time All-American, according to TeamUSA.com.

The 6-foot, 6-inch athlete works every day to be the best setter he can before competing in Paris.

“I think that I’m a good setter, but there’s so much we can get better at as setters,” he said in an interview with Volleyball World. “I’m always trying to learn, and always trying to be a student of the game as much as I can. Even though one can say that I’ve reached a very high level of setting, for me, personally, that doesn’t matter…I’m going for the best me, the best Micah Christenson setter I can be, and I think I can get a lot better.”

RELATED: How Much Do Olympians Get Paid to Compete? It’s Complicated — Here’s What We Know

Max Holt

37-year-old Max Holt is also returning to Team USA for his third Olympics and will be playing middle blocker. He comes from a family of volleyball stars, with a younger brother, Sam, who also plays professional volleyball.

After a tenth place finish with Team USA in Tokyo, Holt was considering ending his Olympic dreams, but changed his mind.

“The closer it got to summer, the more motivated I was, and then I realized that it was something that I felt like I could do and that I wanted to do,” he said to Volleyball World. “I want to go out with a bang.”

As a team veteran, he thinks he’ll have a lot to add during the competitions in Paris.

“I think that what makes us good as a team is this very good mix of old and young,” he told Volleyball World. “The experience factor is very important when you’re coming down to crucial games.”

At a towering 6-foot, 10-inches, he will be a middle blocker for the team.

Team United States during Men's volleyball at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

Thomas Jaeschke

Three-time Olympian Thomas Jaeschke is now a veteran on the team, after competing as the youngest player on the team at the Rio games and earning a bronze medal. At 6-foot, 6-inches, he’ll play outsider hitter for the team. His advice for his younger teammates is to take care of their mental health in Paris.

“It’s pretty draining, especially when you’re there,” the 30-year-old told NBC Chicago. “A lot of emotional energy goes into the Games, you know? Obviously physical energy for the matches, but I think the emotional energy drainage is something that people don’t really understand…Like if you need to shut your phone off and just decompress, do that.”

Jeff Jendryk

Although newcomer Jeff Jendryk is playing in his first Olympic games in Paris, he’ll be going with a familiar face — his college teammate, Thomas Jaeschke. Both athletes grew up in Wheaton, Illinois, a town of only 53,000 people.

“I’m not sure how many times that’s been done,” said Mike Lynch, who coached Jendryk in high school, to the Daily Herald.

Both also went on to star on the Loyola University volleyball team in Chicago, where they won a Division I national championship together in 2015, according to the Chicago Sun Times.

Jaeschke said the 28-year-old middle blocker is a great addition to the team this Olympics, and brings “levity and joy with a mix of professionalism and obviously, a super-high level of player,” according to the Daily Herald. He also brings a massive 6-foot, 10-inch height to the team.

RELATED: Who's on Team USA? A List of the Athletes Qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics

Erik Shoji

34-year-old Erik Shoji will be playing in his third Olympic games in Paris. It’ll be his first Olympics competing without his older brother, Kawika, after the two were teammates at the 2016 and 2020 games. The 6-foot player will be taking on the role of libero in Paris.

“[I feel] lucky that I’ve never really, truly, been burned out on volleyball,” he told Volleyball Mag in an interview. “I’ve loved this sport from a very young age, and I’ve had a huge passion for it. I feel lucky that I have this fire in me that hasn’t gone out just yet.”

Aaron Russell

Two-time Olympian Aaron Russell is hoping to trade up from his bronze medal in Rio to gold in Paris, after not competing at the 2020 games due to hip surgery.

The 6-foot, 9-inch outside hitter married fellow Penn State volleyball player Kendall Pierce in 2017. The Olympics is what first brought the two together.

“Every day, Aaron would be over in our dorm, hanging out with my teammate,” Pierce said to Onward State. “We couldn’t stand each other at first, but oddly enough, it was being crammed into a hot and small dorm room watching the 2012 Summer Olympics that bonded us.”

After supporting him in Rio, Pierce will get another chance to watch her husband compete for a medal.

“Even after finally hanging up my own Nikes and kneepads, my life still seems to revolve around that sport, and I couldn’t be giddier,” she said.

Garrett Muagututia

36-year-old Garrett Muagututia is gearing up for his second Olympics with the men’s volleyball team, as he follows in the footsteps of his Olympian father.

Garrett was just six when Faauuga Muagututia competed in the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer as a bobsledder for American Samoa.

“So, I didn’t really understand how big of a deal that was at that time,” said Garrett to TeamUSA.com, adding he later came to realize “how awesome that was as an opportunity for my dad to go and the fact that he made it.

The 6-foot, 5-inch player has kept with volleyball, even as he faced challenges, like being the last player cut from the 2016 Olympic team. With changes to the 2020 Olympics for coronavirus, Muagututia is looking forward to a more “normal” summer games.

I want to experience the real Olympics with everybody there,” he said. “I want my family to be there to be able to see me play.”

T.J. DeFalco

T.J. DeFalco is officially a two-time Olympian at 27 for the men’s volleyball team. He’s one of seven children who all played volleyball, according to Team USA.

For the Paris Olympics, the 6-foot, 5-inch athlete is going into the games with one visible difference: tattoos. Besides adding the Olympic rings, he has multiple Disney tattoos, all with special meanings.

“I love Disney. I love the movies I used to watch as a kid,” the outside hitter said in an interview with USA Volleyball. “The idea that came to me one day is that I wanted to pick a character that closely resembles each of my family members to me. That’s what I did. All these characters represent members of my family.

Tarzan’s mother and Scrooge McDuck represent his parents. Tweety Bird, Baby Dumbo, and Baby Moana all decorate his body, representing brothers and sisters. He also has other characters in memory of his siblings, including Cera, the triceratops from Land Before Time, Baby Groot, and Popeye.

Taylor Averill

Taylor Averill is a first-time Olympian for the 2024 Summer Games, but it’s not his first volleyball competition on the world stage. He also played in the Pan American Games in Toronto in 2015.

“Our lifestyle is really hard,” the 6-foot, 7-inch middle blocker said on The USA Volleyball Show. “We play volleyball year round. We don’t get a break.”

He encouraged taking breaks and “getting out of your head,” something he’ll be practicing during the Olympics as well.

Micah Ma'a

27-year-old Micah Ma’a will make his Olympic debut in Paris as one of the team’s setters, and also its youngest member. It marks the first time in Olympic history a U.S. men’s or women’s volleyball team does not have a player younger than age 26, according to NBC Sports.

The 6-foot, 3-inch player is the son of two pro volleyball athletes. His father, Pono, played for the USA National Team in 1986, and played pro beach volleyball, while his mother, Lisa Strand, also played pro beach volleyball.

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Watch live coverage of the Opening Ceremony on Friday, July 26, on NBC and Peacock beginning at 12 p.m. ET. Telemundo will provide Spanish-language coverage beginning at 1 p.m. ET. Primetime coverage starts at 7:30 p.m. ET/PT on NBC and Peacock.

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