Key dates: July 28, pool play begins; Aug. 7, knockout round begins; Aug. 11, medal matches. Venue: Earls Court Big story: Can coach Hugh McCutcheon do for the U.S. women what he did for the Olympic champion men in 2008, when he endured family tragedy during the Games? USA Volleyball asked McCutcheon to take over the women's team after Beijing, where his father-in-law was stabbed to death in an act of random violence. The task with the women looks easier than it did with the men, who had finished fourth and 10th in major global tournaments the two years before Beijing. Since the 2008 Olympics, when the U.S. women won their first medal (silver) since bronze in 1992, Team USA has been ranked no lower than second in the world. They head to London with the No. 1 ranking and a shot at the first gold since volleyball became an Olympic sport in 1964. Top U.S. prospects: After 2009, when she won a third NCAA outdoor title in the high jump, Destinee Hooker turned her focus to volleyball, played her first national team tourney in 2010 and quickly became a mainstay for Team USA. Last year, Hooker was named MVP of the volleyball World Grand Prix. In 2008, she missed the Olympic track team in the high jump by just one inch. Others to Watch: Brazil, the reigning Olympic champion, has consistently been strong for two decades, winning medals in three of the past four Olympics. Brazil captain Fabiana Claudino, who plays professionally in Turkey, is a renowned blocker. Little-known fact: One player on each team can be off-color: the libero, who wears a different color shirt than the rest, is a defensive specialist who must stay in the back row, cannot serve, block, attempt to block or make an attacking hit on a ball above the net.
Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE