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Coach returns to help finish the job

August 17, 2008|K.C. Johnson | Chicago Tribune

BEIJING -- Hugh McCutcheon said hello to his players Saturday morning, finding his familiar and comfortable spot patrolling the sidelines as coach of the U.S. Olympic men's volleyball team.

Before doing so, McCutcheon had to say some very difficult goodbyes.

His mother-in-law, Barbara Bachman, and his wife, Elisabeth, returned to the United States via air ambulance as Bachman continued to recover from the Aug. 9 stabbing attack that killed her husband, Todd.

"I would've been quite happy to get on the plane with them," McCutcheon said. "But we had some unfinished business here. Obviously, my life has been invested in this, but other peoples' lives as well. We think it's the right thing to do to try to finish what we started."

The Americans continued their march toward a medal that now carries even greater emotional significance, trouncing China, 25-22, 25-12, 25-18, at the Beijing Institute of Technology. Already guaranteed a quarterfinal berth thanks to four straight triumphs, the U.S. next faces Japan on Monday in its final preliminary game for the top seeding.

Players learned of McCutcheon's return late Friday.

"To have Hugh there is what we're comfortable with, what we're used to seeing throughout the match," captain Tom Hoff said. "Our staff did a great job without him. But this is how we've built our team, with him on the sideline."

In his typically intense style, McCutcheon prowled the sidelines, rarely sitting throughout the 70-minute match. He wore an earpiece to communicate with his assistant coaches and showed little emotion when Sean Rooney spiked home match point.

Pulling up a chair following his formal news conference, McCutcheon made it clear that he had support for his return.

"If Barbara wasn't able to be in stable condition, I wouldn't be here," McCutcheon said in an even voice. "But one of the first times that I saw her when she was awake in ICU, she was asking me why I wasn't coaching the team. That's a testament to the support and the importance she places on what we're doing here.

"This event happened to our family. That's the immediate focal point. But the sphere of influence has been much broader. I know that it's hurt my guys. So it's good to get out there and compete and be part of a group again and try to find business as usual.

"Obviously, this last week has been fairly draining emotionally. When I'm here, I'm here; I'm giving everything I've got. When I'm not with the team, I have to recharge my batteries and get ready for the next round. I hope I can keep working through this. I'm confident I'll be able to do that; otherwise, I wouldn't be here."

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