Previewing the U.S. Women's Olympic Indoor Volleyball Team
Manager, Media Relations and Publications
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Aug. 3, 2008) - The U.S. Women's Olympic Indoor Volleyball Team held high expectations to do well at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and finish on the medal stand.
The U.S. had reason for its aura of confidence with a veteran roster of six players with past Olympic Games experience. Team USA also went into Athens with the FIVB's No. 1 world ranking after finishing on the medal stand in most major international competitions from 2003 to 2004.
Yet, the U.S. departed Athens with a self-described disappointing fifth-place finish after losing a five-set match to Brazil in the quarterfinal round. Earlier five-set losses to Russia and Dominican Republic and a four-set setback to China in pool play proved costly in determining the Americans' crossover quarterfinal opponent for its route to the medal round matches.
That was then.
Entering the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Team USA is once again laden with a roster full of Olympic veterans. Eight of the 12 players have played in at least one Olympic Games, including five players who were also part of the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games.
But several differences exist between the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games. Team USA is ranked fourth in the world instead of a target on its back as the top-ranked team in 2004. Further, no single country has been able to dominate the international game in the current quadrennial. Experts see has many as eight teams, or two-thirds of the field, with legitimate shots to reach the medal stand.
Among the differences for the U.S. squad for the 2008 Olympic Games is the coaching staff that brings Olympic playing experience to its background. "Jenny" Lang Ping (Beijing, China), who signed in early 2005 to lead Team USA in the current quadrennial, will serve as the U.S. team's head coach in her hometown of Beijing and will participate in her third Olympic Games. She starred for the Chinese Olympic Team as an outside hitter and led the squad to a 1984 Olympic Gold Medal in Los Angeles. She coached the Chinese Olympic Team to a silver medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. A 2002 inductee into the international Volleyball Hall of Fame, Lang Ping is still revered by Chinese fans akin to a Michael Jordan status.
Now, Lang Ping moves into rare company in international circles. According to FIVB files, she will be moving into company of Hungary women's team coach Gabriella Kotsis as female coaches to lead teams into multiple Olympics. Kotsis led Hungary during the golden era of Hungarian Volleyball, leading the country into three Olympic Games (1972, 1976, 1980). Lang Ping is currently the only female head coach of a national volleyball federation with a team in the top 20 world ranking.
As part of the 2008 U.S. Olympic delegation, assistant coach Sue Woodstra (Freshwater, Calif.) earned a silver medal at the 1984 Olympic Games playing across the net from Lang Ping in the gold-medal match. Other Team USA staff members include Li Yong (Shenzhen, China) as the therapist/trainer, Tom Hogan (Cincinnati, Ohio) as the technical consultant coach, Diane French (Colorado Springs, Colo.) as the technical coordinator and Joan Powell (Colorado Springs, Colo.) as the team leader. French was a member of the U.S. Olympic Volleyball Team in 1980, but was unable to participate due to the boycott.
The U.S. Olympic Games roster has played a combined 1,888 international matches, topped by Danielle Scott-Arruda's (Baton Rouge, La.) 364 international matches. At age 35, Scott-Arruda has been selected to her fourth Olympic Games roster to tie a USA Volleyball record shared with Tara Cross-Battle, who played in her fourth Olympics in 2004. Scott-Arruda has competed in the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games. She has been a part of the U.S. Women's National Team since May 1994.
Players selected to their third Olympic Games include setter Robyn Ah Mow-Santos (Honolulu), outside hitter Logan Tom (Salt Lake City, Utah), middle blocker Heather Bown (Yorba Linda, Calif.) and libero Stacy Sykora (Burleson, Texas). Opposite Tayyiba Haneef-Park (Laguna Hills, Calif.), setter Lindsey Berg (Honolulu) and outside hitter Ogonna Nnamani (Bloomington, Ill.) are all repeat selections from the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
Newcomers to the Olympic Games are outside hitters Kim Glass (Lancaster, Pa.) and Kim Willoughby (Napoleonville, La.), middle blocker Jennifer Joines (Milpitas, Calif.) and libero Nicole Davis (Stockton, Calif.).
"It has not been easy to get to this final roster," Lang Ping said. "We have been training more than 12 players, especially since January with the young, talented players. By the time we finished the World Grand Prix, almost seven months have passed since starting in January, and we have trained more than 30 players (this year). We have taken a long time to evaluate them and we just want to make sure to have made the right decision. We try to balance all the positions, see different angles and give the team the best chance to play better. Some players have special skills who can give the team something extra. There is also chemistry and positive reactions. It took us over 20 meetings to make this final roster."
The 12-player Olympic roster nearly mirrors the 2007 FIVB World Cup roster in which the U.S. earned the bronze and qualified for the Olympics. Willoughby, who joined the U.S. National Team in April 2008, has replaced Cassie Busse (Prior Lake, Minn.) on the Olympic Roster. Busse competed in all five tournaments in 2007 and was named to the Team USA preliminary Olympic roster of 19 players.
For the 2008 Olympic Games, the U.S. is grouped into Pool A with host China, Cuba, Japan, Poland and Venezuela. The U.S. Women open the Olympic Games on Aug. 9 versus Japan at 10 p.m. at the Capital Indoor Stadium. The Americans face NORCECA rival Cuba on Aug. 11 at 12:30 p.m. at the Capital Indoor Stadium. Team USA plays its only match at the Beijing Institute of Technology Gymnasium on Aug. 13 versus Venezuela at noon. The U.S. challenges China on Aug. 15 at the Capital Indoor Stadium at 8 p.m. before concluding pool play on Aug. 17 versus Poland at 12:30 p.m. at the Capital Indoor Stadium.
Team USA has enjoyed some success against all five of its pool play opponents over the last nine months. The U.S. defeated China and Japan in five sets at the recently completed FIVB World Grand Prix Final Round at Yokohama, Japan. In addition, Team USA dealt Japan a five-set loss in the World Grand Prix preliminary round in Kobe, Japan, and has won five of the six meetings in the current quadrennial. Cuba rallied from a two-set deficit to defeat the American squad in the 2008 World Grand Prix Final Round after the two teams split four matches last year with the U.S. earning an important five-set win at the 2007 FIVB World Cup. The U.S. defeated Poland twice in back-to-back matches in the 2008 FVB World Grand Prix preliminary rounds. Team USA defeated Venezuela in five sets at the 2008 Pan American Cup with Sykora as the only 2008 Olympian on the roster.
The top four teams in both Olympic preliminary round pools advance to the quarterfinals on Aug. 19 with the winner of each pool facing the fourth-place team in the opposite pool. A drawing of lots will determine the opponents for the second- and third-place teams against the opposite pool.
The quarterfinal winners advance to the semifinals on Aug. 21. The gold and bronze medal matches take place on Aug. 23.
Lang Ping used the 2008 schedule as an evaluation tool for selecting both the 2008 Olympic Games roster and putting the younger players in match situations to see if they are ready for this year's Olympic Games or future national team rosters beyond 2008. The season started with an eight-match, three-week tour of China playing against club teams from Olympic Games host country. The U.S. finished the tour with a respectable 5-3 record with the squad that included six current collegiate players and four players who had just finished their eligibility three months prior. Davis served as the captain and gained valuable confidence on the backrow, while the younger players were able to shine at different moments.
The U.S. took a split squad to Mexico to compete in the Pan American Cup May 30-June 7. The Americans, despite playing with just one Olympian in Sykora as the libero, accomplished its major goal of qualifying for the 2009 FIVB World Grand Prix by finishing as the third highest team from NORCECA. The team also defeated Olympic-qualified Venezuela in five sets using the split squad, while several of the younger players stood out in the post-tournament honors.
Lang Ping mix-matched her roster using veterans side-by-side with younger players in three exhibitions matches versus top-ranked Brazil in Colorado Springs in June. Brazil won the first match (25-20, 21-25, 25-23, 21-25, 17-15) on June 11 despite 23 points from Tom. Team USA rebounded to win a five-set match of its own (25-21, 19-25, 29-27, 17-25, 15-11) on June 13 as Nnamani stamped down 19 points. Brazil got the best of the U.S. in the finale on June 14 with a 25-16, 25-20, 25-18, 20-25, 15-8 victory in a contest pre-determined to go five sets.
"We played all the players available over this three-match exhibition and had a chance to evaluate them," Lang Ping said. "Overall, it was pretty positive."
Less than five days after the last Brazil exhibition match, Team USA was beginning FIVB World Grand Prix competition in Japan. After a humbling four-set loss to Turkey in the opener, the U.S. rolled off seven straight victories in the three-weekend preliminary round in three different countries (Japan to Poland to Chinese Taipei) before falling to Italy.
The U.S. entered the World Grand Prix Final Round at Yokohama, Japan, with a 7-2 record, but that was wiped away with the start of the five-match round-robin Final. Team USA opened the Finals with Brazil, which breezed to a three-set victory as the U.S. continued to alter the lineup to evaluate players. The U.S. rebounded with a five-set victory over Japan before losing in five sets to Cuba. After Italy edged the U.S. in four sets, the Americans finished out the Finals with an exciting five-set victory over China.
"Russia and Serbia were not at the World Grand Prix, but in the Finals there were six teams qualified for the Olympic Games, three of which we will play in our pool," Lang Ping said. "We are pretty close, except Brazil dominated the World Grand Prix. Cuba and China played their full teams in the tournament. We changed our players in different weeks, same with Italy. I don't think (every team) put forth their best lineup in every match as teams tried to evaluate different players. I think we played better each week, especially in the fourth week. Our physical conditioning was a little tired, and that made it a little harder for the players. We still had our goals and worked hard, especially to play more consistently."
For its final preparations heading into the Olympic Games, the U.S. Olympic Team trained in Colorado Springs July 18-26 before traveling to California for sea-level training and USOC Olympic Team Processing in San Jose. The squad opened its training to the public on July 31 with an intrasquad scrimmage at the University of California-Berkeley the day before jetting to Beijing.