Daily Herald
USA volleyball returns to play Finland at Sears Centre
By Mike Miazga | Special to the Daily Herald
Published: 6/22/2010 11:05 AM

If you go

What: World League men's volleyball matches, Team USA vs. Finland at Sears Centre Arena, Hoffman Estates.

When: 7 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: Available at the Sears Centre box office, online at searscentre.com or by calling 1-888-SEARSTIX (732-7784). Tickets are $25, $20, $18 and $15. Prices go up $3 on the day of the event. For discounts with groups of 10 or more, call Tony Infusino at 847 649-2225.

Former Pepperdine University men's volleyball All-American Sean Rooney has reason to be fired up this weekend.

That's because the 6-foot-9 Rooney is coming home. The Wheaton-Warrenville South High School alum and 2008 Olympic gold medalist, along with the rest of the U.S. men's national volleyball team will take the Sears Centre court in Hoffman Estates Friday and Saturday against Finland as part of the $18 million Federation Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB) World League event. Both matches start at 7 p.m.

This is one of the rare times local indoor volleyball fans will have the opportunity to see members of the 2008 U.S. men's Olympic volleyball team that won a gold medal in Beijing play on American soil.

"I'm really looking forward to going to Chicago this year," said Rooney, an outside hitter for Team USA. "I've already started contacting people (to get tickets). I'm looking forward to seeing my family and friends. The fans there know volleyball and we always get really good support."

Team USA veteran outside hitter Reid Priddy also looks forward to the Chicago-area World League stop each year. This is the third year in a row that the U.S. has hosted one of its three World League home series in Hoffman Estates.

Last year's Sears Centre matches involving Team USA drew crowds of more than 4,000 both nights against Italy. Concord, N.C., and Wichita, Kan., are the other two U.S. host cities this year.

"We always get a really good reception in Hoffman Estates," said Priddy. "It's a great atmosphere. Not only do we get U.S. fans, but usually the other country has a loud group of fans there as well."

The U.S. squad, ranked No. 2 in the world behind Brazil, comes into Friday's match against Finland with a 4-2 mark in Pool C competition. Finland, ranked No. 30 in the world according to FIVB, sits at 1-5. Team USA, which won World League in 2008 and took sixth last year, trails Russia by 5 points for the pool lead heading into this weekend's competition. Russia is the only remaining unbeaten in World League action at 6-0.

The U.S. is in a must-win mode due to the fact only the four pool winners and host Argentina automatically qualify for the World League final round in July. The sixth and final spot will be awarded to the top second-place team out of the four pools.

Currently, Italy is the top second-place team with 14 points (3 points are awarded for a 3-0, or 3-1 win; 2 points awarded for a 3-2 win; 1 point awarded for a 3-2 loss). Bulgaria has 13 points, while both the U.S. and Germany have 12 points.

After playing Finland, the U.S. heads to Cairo next weekend to face winless Egypt and then returns to Wichita to face unbeaten Russia to close out the Intercontinental round, meaning there is still time to catch Russia.

Despite already holding two wins over Finland in earlier pool play in Tampere, Team USA coach Alan Knipe is not taking this weekend's opponent lightly.

"Finland is a very nice team," said Knipe, who coached the Long Beach State men prior to taking over the U.S. program from current U.S. women's coach Hugh McCutcheon. "Finland has the ability to set the ball fast. They are an aggressive serving team. We are going to have to be ready to play."

Carol Stream native Andy Hein (Pepperdine) is also part of the U.S. program and was part of the initial 19-player World League preliminary roster.

Priddy says fans that head out to Sears Centre this weekend will see hard-hitting action from the Americans.

"I can't predict a victory, but I can tell people they should expect to see our team giving 100 percent effort against Finland," said Priddy.

Rooney recalls having a strong pair of matches last year against Italy at Sears Centre. Playing in front of familiar faces had something to do with his individual success.

"Last year in Hoffman, I had two very good days, even though we lost one of the matches," said Rooney. "To be in front of friends and family for that was really special."