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Summer Spotlight: Princeton men’s volleyball exchanges the orange and black for red, white, and blue

<p>Cody Kessel, George Huhmann, and coach Sam Shweisky at the NORCECA Championships.&nbsp;</p>
<p>Photo by GoPrincetonTigers</p>

Cody Kessel, George Huhmann, and coach Sam Shweisky at the NORCECA Championships. 

Photo by GoPrincetonTigers

First-year James Hartley was just seven years old when he started playing volleyball with his sister in his driveway in North Carolina. He knew that he loved the game, but there wasn’t a boys’ team for him to play on. When he was nine, he started playing with a local volleyball club for the girls’ U12 team; he moved to the U13 team when he was 10.

When James was 11, a boys’ club team was started in Rock Hill, S.C., about 30 minutes from where he grew up. It was his first experience playing on a boys’ team.

Little did he know that in just over a decade, he would represent the United States for the U.S. Youth National Team in Tunisia.

Hartley was one of thousands at the first series of try-outs and one of 24 at the second round, where he eventually became one of the 12 members of the team. Hartley explained that process was intense and demanding, both physically and mentally.

“That meeting when you are told if you made it or not is the most nerve-wracking meeting in the world. It’s like you get a plane ticket home or you get a plane ticket to the tournament,” Hartley explained while reflecting on the process of making the team.

Hartley relied frequently on the people close to him to get through this process.

“Coach Shweisky has been there with me for my whole journey because I am a very emotional player, and these national team try-outs are really tough to handle — so I would call Coach Shweisky all the time and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I am so scared,’ and he would talk me through it,” Hartley said. 

Hartley wasn’t the only Tiger volleyball player representing the United States over the summer, though; seniors George Huhmann and Parker Dixon were also wearing the national colors on the court. Huhmann played for the FIVB Volleyball Nations League (VNL) in Winnipeg, where Cody Kessel ’15 also suited up for the team and Princeton head coach Sam Shweisky assisted in coaching. Dixon played for USA Volleyball in the World University Games in Italy. 

When Huhmann found out that he was selected to join the roster of the men’s U.S. volleyball team for the FIVB VNL team, he immediately told his mother. 

“I knew I wouldn’t be home the following week since I was going straight to Anaheim for training,” Huhmann explained in an email to The Daily Princetonian.

Being selected to the final roster for the team was a bit of a surprise for Huhmann. The U.S. team is a combination of young players who have played in both FIVB and Pan American settings. Many of the players spent their summer training in hopes of making the roster for the FIVB World Cup in October and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

“It was definitely a much more competitive group of teams, and there was a lot on the line. I was a little surprised, but at that point in the summer, I was used to getting thrown off guard on various teams I never thought I would make,” Huhmann said. 

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Huhmann and the VNL team placed second in the tournament, but Huhmann’s favorite memory of the summer was his first VNL experience in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. It was the first time that he officially played in a match with the senior team. One of the most thrilling moments of his time on the team was the atmosphere in the gym during the VNL Finals. This was the first time that the VNL team had the chance to play in front of U.S. fans.

Huhmann also had the opportunity to play for Coach Shweisky and with Kessel for the first time.

“I am pretty used to Coach Shweisky’s coaching, and I've always heard so many great things about Cody,” Huhmann explained. “It was nice to finally play with him.”

In a statement to GoPrincetonTigers, Sam Shweisky stated: “I am so grateful for this opportunity to coach with the United States again this summer and travel with a team internationally for the sixth consecutive year. This will be my first time coaching internationally at the men’s senior level which is very exciting. The best part about this trip is getting to see two Tigers on the roster! Getting to coach George and Cody is such an incredible opportunity! I am so proud of those guys and what they have accomplished.”

For Hartley, his experience representing the United States was an opportunity to see the diversity of the game of volleyball across nations. 

“Playing these teams like Russia, Bulgaria, or Italy, who have these people that you are never exposed to while playing club here in the U.S. at this age — I was exposed to a level of volleyball that I have never seen kids my age play,” Hartley said. “It’s weird because in club, you are saying, ‘Oh, we are playing this club today,’ but on the national team, you are saying, ‘Oh, I am playing Russia today.’”

Dixon and the United States Collegiate National team placed 16th at the 2019 World University Games. In addition to having the opportunity to represent his country, Dixon received an AVCA All-American Honorable Mention and was selected to the EIVA All-Tournament Team and first-team all-conference during the last season.

Dixon could not be reached for comment.

Huhmann and the VNL squad received the silver medal in the NORCECA championship. Cuba defeated the United States in the championship, 25–18, 21–25, 25–20, 25–20, giving the United States its only loss of the tournament.

Hartley and the U.S. Youth National team finished 15th at the FIVB Boys U19 World Championship. 

When reflecting on what he will bring back to his senior season with Princeton Volleyball from his experience playing for the United States, Huhmann said, “I'm going to try and work on my game off the court more, similar to what a lot of the national team guys do, and hopefully that helps me be better on the court.”

As for Hartley, he is still trying to adjust to finding his place on the men’s volleyball team here at Princeton. He is continuing to reflect on his journey to get to this point today.

“It is cool for me to see my journey going from playing in my driveway, to a girls’ team, to a small club team, to being on the National team,” Hartley explained. He is grateful to have been given the chance to pave the way for a lot of other North Carolina boys who now have the opportunities playing volleyball that he didn’t.