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Top volleyball stories to watch in Rio

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Top volleyball stories to watch in Rio

As the U.S. women look to rival Brazil on home court, here is what you need to watch in Rio. 

Brazil: Volleyball's spiritual home
The Rio Olympic volleyball tournament will take place in the Maracanazinho arena, often called the “spiritual home of volleyball.” Second only to soccer, the popularity of the sport breeds vivacious fans. Expect to see as much passion in the stands as you will on the court. Any team facing off against Brazil should expect to receive as much pressure from hometown fans as they would from the host country team. 

U.S. women looking to claim first-ever gold 
After suffering two consecutive Gold Medal Match losses to Brazil, the U.S. women will look to win the nation's first ever women’s volleyball Olympic gold. The U.S. team acknowledged that a victory against Brazil would make a gold medal that much shinier. “We all know that’s what we want to accomplish and there’s no question,” setter Courtney Thompson told NBCOlympics.com. “ I think the biggest thing about this team is that we want a challenge, we want it to be hard, we want to be tested in tough environments and it would be fun to play Brazil in Brazil. I hope we get that chance. 

Shoji Brothers
Brother Eric and Kawika Shoji will make their Olympic debuts together in Rio and are the first brothers to play on the same U.S. volleyball team at the Olympics. Eric and Kawika grew up around the sport as their father, Dave Shoji, served as University of Hawaii’s coach for over 40 years. 

Teammates to rivals 
Since most countries lack a national volleyball league, top athletes turn to professional international club leagues. The diverse club culture often puts national rivals on the same professional team. U.S. setter Courtney Thompson spent the 2015-16 club season with Brazilian club team Rexona-Ades alongside Brazilian national team players Gabi and Juciely. Iran’s Saeid Marouf played with USA’s Matt Anderson on Russia’s Zenit Kazan club. Italy’s Osmany Juantorena spent the 2015-16 season on Volley Lube with U.S. national players Reid Priddy and Micah Christenson. Because most players opt to join international professional leagues, it’s likely that most players will find familiar faces on the opposite side of the net. 

Carli Lloyd connection 
Carli Lloyd is set to make her Olympic volleyball debut in Rio. No, the superstar from the soccer pitch isn’t moving indoors, rather it’s a case of two U.S. Olympians with the same name. USA Volleyball’s Carli Lloyd is one of three setters named to the 2016 Rio Olympic team. 

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