New Zealand's Hugh McCutcheon is the new coach of the United States women's volleyball team, appointed today less than four months after guiding the US men's team to gold at the Beijing Olympics.
The Christchurch-raised former New Zealand player overcame personal tragedy in Beijing when his father-in-law, Todd Bachman, was stabbed to death by a crazed Chinese assailant just after the Games started and his mother-in-law, Barbara, narrowly escaped death after being badly wounded in the same attack.
He is married to Elisabeth Bachman, a former US national team player.
After missing their first three matches to be with his family, McCutcheon returned to guide the US to 3-2 wins over Serbia (quarterfinal) and Russia (semifinal), before downing favourites Brazil 3-1 in a dramatic final.
It was the first time since 1988 that the US men had won gold, with the women's team finishing second behind Brazil at Beijing.
"This is a great opportunity for me to further develop professionally,'' said McCutcheon, who was appointed US men's coach in 2005. He now has a four-year contract to coach the women.
"I'm excited by the challenges this change presents, and I'm optimistic that some of the knowledge we've acquired with the men's programme can translate to the women.
"There will be differences in systems and aspects of developing team culture but, at the end of the day, the fundamental principles of volleyball are not gender-specific.''
McCutcheon, 39, left New Zealand to further his career as a 20-year-old, winning a playing scholarship to Brigham Young University (Utah) and gradually climbing the coaching ladder in the US, a massive achievement given that volleyball is the second biggest team sport in the world behind football (soccer).
"Hugh proved his abilities as a great coach, motivator and programme manager,'' Volleyball USA chief executive Doug Beal told their website.
The US went undefeated in Beijing to claim their third Olympic Games gold medal and first podium finish since 1992.
McCutcheon leaves the job with a 107-33 overall record in four years and the US are ranked second in the current FIVB world rankings behind Brazil.
"Hugh meant everything to our team,'' said back-court defender (libero) Rich Lambourne.
"He was the mastermind of what we were trying to do. He was the one who clearly focused our goal and got it written down and set out a plan for how to get us there. It's a huge credit to him that he kept us on that.''
The incumbent US women's coach, Lang Ping, a former Chinese national team star, did not seek a contract renewal.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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