BEIJING Looking to move into the men's volleyball quarterfinals undefeated with a victory Monday night over Japan, the United States team is content to finally be at full strength.
The Americans weren't battling an absence on the court, but rather on the sidelines, with U.S. head coach Hugh McCutcheon missing the first three matches while helping his wife, Elisabeth, through the tragic stabbings of her parents at a Beijing tourist site.
On the first day of Olympic competition, Todd Bachman was killed and Barbara Bachman seriously wounded by an assailant who unsuspectingly attacked them at the Drum Tower before leaping to his own death from a tower balcony.
Through the first week of the Games, McCutcheon joined his wife at the hospital daily to care for his mother-in-law, who had progressed enough from her life-threatening injuries to be transferred by air ambulance home to Minnesota this weekend.
And it was time for McCutcheon to return to the U.S. team, guiding the Americans in Saturday's three-set sweep of host China.
"I wouldn't have come back if I wasn't ready," McCutcheon said. "You know, what I do is sit on the sideline and fire up the boys.
"I think it was comforting just getting back in the normal rhythm of the team," he added. "All teams have a culture, and I'm certainly a part of ours. So it was great to get back into the game and get going again."
And the players were glad to have him return, too.
"He said he was ready to come back," said middle blocker Ryan Millar, who also played for McCutcheon at BYU when Millar was a national player of the year and McCutcheon was an assistant coach for the Cougars.
"He needed time to take care of his personal business, and we respected that," Millar continued. "But we managed to take care of business on the court while he was gone anyway. He's a great guy, and it's good to have him back."
Teammate Kevin Hansen agreed.
"It's always good to have your leader back, and it's great to have the complete team in order. Hopefully we can focus on the matches now that we have to play to win, rather than on the tragedy behind us."In facing Japan on Monday, the U.S. looks to finish group play with a perfect 5-0 record, having earned one of the top seeds in the quarterfinals that start Wednesday.