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Dannemiller, Rosen honored to face new challenges with USA Volleyball

James Coller/Daily
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By Jacob Gase, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 13, 2014

Lexi Dannemiller and Mark Rosen are no strangers to competition at the national level, but this time will be different.

Dannemiller, a junior setter on the Michigan volleyball team, has attended national tryouts in Colorado Springs, Colo. all three years of her collegiate career. She was selected to the Women’s National A2 Program for college players as a freshman. Rosen, her coach at Michigan, has been involved with USA Volleyball for years and led an A2 team to a gold medal at the USA Volleyball Open National Championships in 2010.

This year, Dannemiller and Rosen have been summoned by the national development program again. Rosen has been named co-head coach of the brand-new Collegiate National Team, which will embark on a tour of China with 12 of the top players in the country — including his own setter, Dannemiller.

And though the two have experience with national volleyball, this year’s team will bring a host of challenges that neither Rosen, Dannemiller, nor anyone else involved in USA Volleyball has ever experienced.

The A2 program started as a means of bringing together all of the nation’s best college players and helping them develop as a unit. It serves as a pipeline for possible future Olympic talent, and it is rapidly evolving. When Rosen was first involved in the program, 24 players were invited. In later years, that number increased to 48. Taking the top 12 players from that group, this year’s Collegiate National Team is the latest step in the program’s effort to groom the country’s premium young talent and find the best outlet for honing their skills.

Despite the unprecedented task ahead of them, both Dannemiller and Rosen are extremely grateful for the opportunities and rewards the evolving program has provided.

“They didn’t have this program when I tried out two years ago, but that makes it that much better because it was more selective, higher prestige and everything,” Dannemiller said. “It was just ‘Wow, OK, I’m good enough to be here,’ so it’s kind of cool.”

Added Rosen: “It’s a great opportunity for me as a coach to go see programs from around the world, how they do things, how they train and how they compete. It’ll be a great opportunity for our players to play with other players from the U.S. that are different from what they’ve played with in the past. I always say those experiences are really good, especially for a position like a setter, because they have to learn very quickly how to put it together, how to make it work.”

There are tremendous benefits for everyone involved, but the actual nature of the competition ahead is something of a mystery. Last year, the Pac-12, operating with the same general developmental strategy as the new Collegiate National team, sent an all-star team to China.

The Americans won just two sets in the entire competition, in which they played against professional teams that practice eight to 10 hours a day.

This year, Rosen hopes things will be a little bit different. Officials are trying to find the right level of competition, whether it be a Chinese junior national team of 17- and 18-year-olds, or another group of professional teams. Either way, the two Wolverines are excited for the challenge of representing their country.

“It’s going to be such a great honor and a once-in-a-lifetime experience to wear that USA on my back,” Dannemiller said. “I’ve heard that playing in China, I’m not sure what teams we’re playing, but they’re really competitive and very good teams. Having that high level of competition really is going to help prepare me for the next year.”

Rosen, though somewhat nervous about the uncertainty surrounding the tour, has remained optimistic by stressing the learning experiences that could come from playing overseas.

“Every country plays differently, and so for these guys to have to adapt to how a Chinese team is going to play is going to be a really good experience,” he said. “All the way around, it’s kind of a no-lose situation, but at the same time, we know there’s going to be a lot of challenges.”

There’s one last positive for Rosen and Dannemiller to take away from this experience: Both will be representing Michigan on the same prestigious team. Rosen was present as an evaluator for the tryouts in Colorado but had little to no involvement scouting Dannemiller personally — being selected to the same team was pure coincidence.

Thinking of the improbable turn of events, Rosen can’t help but smile.

“When I took the job, I didn’t know that I’d have a player going — now I’m really glad I took it,” he said. “Had I not, I’d be kicking myself right now. It’ll be fun.”