Native Iowans rarely find themselves "stuck" in Anaheim, Calif., yearning to be in Poland.
Still, that's how Nancy Metcalf felt last weekend as Team USA opened play in the month-long FIVB World Grand Prix tournament, playing its first three pool play matches in Gdynia, Poland.
One of 19 members of the U.S. national team, Metcalf was not among the 13 players selected for three weekend matches in Poland as coach Hugh McCutcheon, the New Zealand native who led the U.S. men to the volleyball gold medal in the 2008 Olympics, opted for a younger lineup.
"They wanted to check out some of the younger girls," said Metcalf, the former Hull Western Christian star who has been involved with the national team since 2000 and has played professional volleyball overseas for the last 10 years. "They said, 'We've seen how you play, so we know what you can do,'" Metcalf said.
"I'd love to be there," she said. "Competing is the fun part of what we do. But I'm still in California, training with the girls who are still back here."
The former Nancy Meendering, a three-time first-team All-American for the University of Nebraska, may still get the call as the U.S. ponders roster moves for its remaining pool play action, traveling to Thailand this weekend and Hong Kong the following weekend for three more matches at either venue.
McCutcheon is allowed to shuffle a squad of 14 players every week of the tournament, restricted only to the overall 19-player national team that Metcalf led in scoring for its 2009 campaign.
Playing the "opposite," or rightside hitter position, Metcalf stayed home last weekend while the U.S. opted to take the other three team members at her position, veteran Ogonna Nnamani (Bloomington, Ill., and Stanford University) along with newcomers Destinee Hooker (Texas) and Nicole Fawcett (Penn State), a pair of 6-4 athletes whose teams met in the NCAA finals just last December.
Hooker, a former 6-foot high jumper and basketball star from San Antonio, saw nearly all the playing time and was the team's leading scorer, but the favored Americans lost tight matches with Germany and Poland after an opening win over the Dominican Republic.
"There's a possibility I could go out to join the team later in the tournament," said Metcalf, well aware that McCutcheon has until Thursday to pick 14 players for this weekend's matches in Thailand.
The team's major emphasis, however, is November's FIVB World Championships and a bid to produce a higher finish than the American's current No. 4 world ranking.
"Everything we've been doing throughout the summer has been working towards November," said Metcalf.
McCutcheon took over the women's program after taking the U.S. men as far as he could in the 2008 Games in Beijing. It was a well-publicized success that followed days after the parents of McCutcheon's wife, Elisabeth Bachman, one of Metcalf's 2004 Olympic teammates, were attacked along with their tour guide while visiting historic Drum Tower on the first day of the '08 Games. Bachman's father died of stab wounds from an assailant who subsequently leaped to his death.
"Hugh won the gold with the men's team, there was nowhere else to go," said Metcalf.
Of course, the women weren't far behind, matching their best finish ever with a silver medal. Unfortunately, Metcalf wasn't there, which has no doubt added to her motivation at age 31, hoping to be on the Olympic team in London two years from now.
"It was extremely difficult (missing the '08 Games) because it was a group I was training with for years," said the daughter of Harry and Dee Meendering of Hull. "At the same time, you're happy for them."
Metcalf truly thought she'd be in China for her second Olympics. However, those plans began taking a detour the previous November, when she was playing on her professional team in Istanbul, Turkey.
"I tore my (left) shoulder in about November," said the hard-hitting southpaw. "A doctor in Lincoln looked at it and told me to lay off it a little bit and it should be OK. But when you're playing for a professional team, they want you to play. So, I saw a shoulder specialist in Turkey. He said I would need surgery no matter what, but if I could play through the pain I could have the surgery after the season was over. It wouldn't make any difference."
Metcalf, indeed, gutted it out and helped her team win a championship.
Then, in May, she returned to the U.S. and landed an appointment with Dr. James Andrews of Birmingham, Ala., the renowned orthopedic surgeon who has impacted the lives of countless sports stars over the years.
"He saw my January MRI and said that a month or two of rest and some rehab and I should be able to get through this," said Metcalf. "It was heartbreaking to tell him it was a five-month-old MRI and that I had played through it.
"He did a fresh MRI and said, 'I could tell you to go out there and play, but to the point that it's torn right now, I don't think you'll make it through the summer.' So, I ended up getting the surgery done in May. And, it was one of the hardest phone calls I've had to make to call the coaches. It ended of my dream of playing in Beijing."
Fully healed a year ago, Metcalf made a triumphant return to Team USA by finishing the squad's annual campaign as its No. 1 scorer. And, she was still making headlines as recently as June, when she helped them claim a bronze medal in the Pan American Cup in Tijuana, Mexico, the Americans' first podium finish in the event since 2004.
Also a member of the Pan American Cup squad and one of the 13 players that made the trip to Poland last week was another former Nebraska star, Jordan Larson, a Hooper, Neb., native out of Logan View High School who is just a year removed from her college career with the Huskers. And, Larson, like Hooker and Fawcett, likely has many more seasons of international play ahead of her.
As for Metcalf, whose husband, Jason, owns and operates two Scooter's coffee franchises in Lincoln, the plan seems to include three more years of volleyball.
"I'd like to play in the London Olympics and possibly play overseas for a season after that. Then I'd be done because I'd like to have a life outside of sports."