*USA** 3 Bulgaria 1*
BEIJING (Aug. 15, 2008) - Yesterday was another step in the journey that started nearly four years ago for this team. Bulgaria is a big, physical team who have earned the right to be ranked 4^th in the world. They aren't exactly at their best right now and their team dynamic is not so great. One of their Olympic roster players is not even here. We have heard different rumors as to why, and I can't speculate on that in a blog, but suffice it to say that not all is as merry as their festive uniforms would indicate.
USA would have won the first set if we could have eliminated a few service errors. But Bulgaria also played their best in the first set. From that point on, just like the match with Italy, USA controlled the match. There were some great defensive plays on our side of the net, something that is a hallmark of USA Volleyball.
The team is now getting ready to play China at 10am on Saturday.
The US Olympic Committee recently had a slogan for the Olympics: "It's not just every 4 years—it's every day". The world tunes in to the Olympic Games every four years, and for a few weeks names that we rarely hear suddenly become household. However, the athletes behind those names have been training and competing many years for the opportunity to compete in the Olympics with "USA" on their backs.
Looking at this team...each four-year cycle the team competes in three major events. The major events are World Championships, World Cup, and the Olympics. Semi-major events are World League (yearly), Americas' Cup, Grand Champions Cup, and the Pan American Games. Smaller events are zone championships (NORCECA for us: North America, Central America and the Caribbean) and qualifiers for major events. In between all of those are friendly tours and tournaments. When players are not with their national teams competing in all these events they are playing professionally in Europe, Asia or South America. In other words, there is a lot going on during all those months and years between Olympic Games.
Every USA team begins the quadrennial with one ultimate goal: Gold in the Olympics. It's a journey of a thousand miles that is traveled one step at a time. The team did not just show up at the airport for the flight to Beijing. They've been through what seems like a lifetime together, both on and off the court, and Hugh has been there every step of the way, preparing them for this moment.
A lot of people are asking if the tragedy that occurred with the Bachmans is inspirational for the team. Of course the team would like nothing better than to pay tribute to their coach and the Bachmans by winning gold. But the team's focus and intrinsic motivation to win was laser sharp and strong before they even got on the plane to come here. I'm not even sure there is any room for any outside circumstance that can improve on that, and I'm also not sure anyone would want anything to change with the team's focus at this point.
This team is coming off some huge wins a few weeks ago in Brazil at the World League Finals. They beat Poland, Brazil, and Serbia in what is the FIVB's big-money event. What this team needs to do, and what it has done so far, is keep doing what they have always done. As far as effort is concerned, they are trained to play as hard as they can every single time they step on the court, every point and every contact. You can't really improve on that.
In addition to all this, volleyball is a skill sport. Height, jumping ability, strength and fitness are important components to success (if you could see our players and their rivals up close you would be amazed at their size and strength). But if you are not skilled you will not win. Because there is such a high premium on technique and precision in the execution of skills, adrenaline has a limited benefit. The boys could get so amped up thinking about how much they want to win it for Hugh, Wiz and the Bachmans that they would bust out of the locker room without opening a door. But, unlike many other sports, that adrenaline would hurt them when the first serve comes.
The other component that separates very good teams from gold medal teams is mental discipline. There are so many tactical and strategic aspects to this game that if you are too fired up you could easily forget those small things that make the difference between gold and 5th place.
Big props go to Hugh's coaching staff. Ron Larsen, John Speraw, Jamie Morrison and Aaron Brock are exceptionally good at what they do. Ron has seamlessly stepped into the head coaching role and nobody has missed a beat. I have watched these three work together with Hugh and without Hugh (the Pan Am Games in 2007) and they are as good as it gets when it comes to preparing the team to win. Ron's ability to manage a match is excellent. John and Jamie make sure all the i's are dotted and the t's crossed so that the team can perform. Aaron Brock is much more than just a great trainer--he's an integral part of the staff.
The consultants at these Olympic Games, Marv Dunphy and Carl McGown, are like having John Wooden and Dean Smith help you with your basketball team. Their contributions, especially in Hugh's absence, have been superb.
Having such a great staff, and a bunch of players who are so well prepared to succeed, is a tribute to Hugh's leadership. Great leaders prepare their teams so well that they can perform at high levels even when their leader is gone.
Having said all this, it will be great to have Hugh back on the sideline when that time comes. And every bit of success this team has in Beijing will be their way of paying homage to Todd Bachman and providing some inspiration to Barbara Bachman as she continues on the path of recovery.