Ali Wood's Olympic Report - Aug. 17, 2008
What an exciting 48 hours of volleyball!!! After the women's indoor team took a thrilling 5 game victory over China, (my ears are still ringing from the crowd noise!) we had an early morning of matches and training yesterday. Because Misty-Kerri and Todd-Phil will play all early matches (for NBC) the girls were practicing during the guys' match. We assumed Todd and Phil would defeat the Swiss team of Laciga-Schnieder easily, as they have done previously. When we finished training and there was still so much crowd noise, we called our videographer to get the score . When Peter told us it was 6-8 in the third with Todd and Phil down, we sprinted (as Misty noted "as if we were running from a tsunami") from the practice courts into the stadium.
Our guys were a little flat and the Swiss were all fired up to be the giant killers, but a huge block by Phil brought the US that much closer. On the next sideout play Schneider had a questionable set that did not get called, but I think it got into his head a bit. He got called on the next one and Laciga started to lose his composure. That was all our guys needed to close it out 15-13. Whew!
So what goes on all day when we only have two matches, one am one pm? We leave the hotel 2-3 hours before each match so the athletes can sign in, get stretched, and have a good warm up. After they play there is a press conference and sometimes doping control. After that they spend time with friends and family, so we never really leave the venue until 1.5-2 hours after the match. Then we round them up to go back to the hotel to eat, lift, get physical therapy or massage, watch match footage, etc. In the afternoon we head back to the site for the evening match and start the whole process again. Needless to say, we are looking forward to the semis when the schedule goes to all morning matches.
In our second men's match yesterday Jake and Rosie played Spain. Game one was an absolute battle with both teams having several set point opportunities. After giving those of us in the stands a few (more) gray hairs, the US prevailed. In game 2 Rosie put on a brilliant display of defense and lefty smack downs to take the match in two sets. This put all four teams in the quarters, meaning no worse than 5ths!
After that came the match of the tourney so far...Russia v Brazil. The Russians took game 1 behind Igor Kolodinsky's 110 km/hr jump serve and great blocking. Ricardo-Emanuel have been #1 in the world for as long as many people can remember. They are the defending gold medalists, so the possibility of their being knocked out and finishing ninth was shocking. The Russians had a break out season in 2007 taking silver at the World Championships. But they have been inconsistent all of 2008 and were lackluster here in their pool play matches. They really found their fire, winning game 1 easily. In game two Russia had three swings for match. But Ricardo fired up and had three straight blocks to save the match. The third set was close, but Russia could not get a lead and Brazil prevailed. It was gut wrenching to see Igor and his coach Marco, whom we've all known for years, in tears.
This morning Misty and Kerri played Brazil to get to the semis. We were a little worried when Misty came out absolutely shellacking the ball, and Larissa was digging her as if it were a controlled pepper drill. Brazil is a new pairing, as Larissa's usual partner injured her knee and was unable to compete. Ana Paula flew in just days before the competition started, and lucky for USA, they did not find their rhythm. USA won in two to go to the semis where they will get the winner of Brazil 2 and Australia, both dangerous opponents.
When Kerri and Misty decided to change coaches at the end of 2006, I wondered if this would have much impact on their performance. Really, how hard is it to coach the #1 team in the world who is shoulders above the rest? Now watching them I have to say Troy Tanner has made them an even better team. Kerri's blocking is formidable and Misty's ball control is even smoother than before. I als like that they are using their hands more, so hats off to Troy!
Tonight Nicole and EY play China 2 to get to the semis. They have not beaten this team in 2008, but are fully capable of doing so, as they match up well. All four are tall, physical athletes who like to hit the ball. EY's ball control and experience should give them the edge...I hope! Keep your fingers crossed.