Ali Wood at the World University Championship for Beach Volleyball

July 04, 2008, 8:17 p.m. (ET)
What a change from yesterday…it poured all night last night and all day today.  The temp was about 56F, pouring non-stop!  Luckily there is a large dining hall area for the volunteers that they decided to open up for the athletes and staff.  I have to say the organizers did a great job with the challenges.  Two courts were under water by the end of the first round and everyone was in the dining hall.  The organizers brought in space heaters, coffee, clotheslines, and plastic bags to serve as ponchos.  They moved the massage tables in, and created some space for athletes to warm up and pepper.  They juggled the match schedule around and no one missed a match.  It was chaotic, but it worked.

Our guys had the early matches.  Joey and Mark did not have much trouble with the Swiss, and Duncan and Clint were able to dispatch China 2 a second time.  I am really impressed with Duncan and Clint’s level of improvement.  A few weeks ago their sideout game had absolutely no rhythm and was more like a virus drill than international caliber volleyball.  They have been so smooth all weekend. 

Lauren and Keegan played next against New Zealand.  They won game one easily, but then struggled with their sideout game.  It was raining so hard that the ball was about 1.5 kilos and very difficult to put away.  New Zealand had better control of the ball and used their long levers to hit some great deep shots taking set two.  Set three went the distance and Lauren and Keegan fought off at least five match balls before succumbing and moving into the contenders’ bracket.  The next USA match was Kari and Olivia against Spain’s number one team in the contenders’.  This is the first match in which the USA 2 team looked in control the entire way.  Pesto finally brought out her jumper and was playing really aggressively.  She has a great arm swing when her timing is on.  They won easily in two to advance to the next round against Austria.  Unfortunately they decided to vacillate between their aggressive and tentative games and lost this one in three to finish the event in 17th place.  While it is their first international beach event, I felt that they could have done a lot better if their focus had been there the entire week.  One of the most difficult aspects of international events is that there are so many distractions… weird food, funny accents, player parties, weather challenges, etc.  Managing these distractions is sometimes more important than your actual skills.

Next up was Lauren and Keegan against Hong Kong, who did not look very imposing but were very skilled.  They have spent some time training with Dane Selznick, and it shows, as they almost beat our girls.  Keegan was able to come up with some huge digs when it counted, and USA pulled it out.  Their next match up was France 1.  Let’s just say it was dismal and quick.  Keegan and Lauren exited the competition in 13th place.  I would have to sum up the women’s event as a disappointing underachievement.  I think USA 1 could have medaled and USA2 could have finished top 10 at least if they did not let the challenges of the weather get to them.  I guess we chalk it up as a  learning experience.

The men, on the other hand, are on fire!  After their first-round wins, Joey and Mark took on Germany 1 in stadium court.  This is the same team that knocked Stein Metzger and Mark Williams out of the qualifier in Berlin a few weeks ago and has been in a couple of FIVB Main Draws.   Dollinger is 6’9” and created a whole new challenge for Joey’s block.  Kazmarek has a wicked left hand and a great jumper.  Joey struggled a bit with his sideout game, but Mark’s aggressive serving and defense were able to steady them out to win in three.  Joey is playing with a ton of fire, which is great to see, as he tends to be a bit quiet.

Meanwhile on court 2 Duncan and Clint were in a battle with China 1.  This is the first team that has really challenged them thus far.  China had at least two match balls that they could not convert. Clint came up with a couple of huge digs and solid sideouts to combine with Duncan’s domination at the net to pull this one off 17-15 in the third.  These guys have so much fun when they are playing that they are great to watch.  Tomorrow will be really exciting!  Our guys play each other on court 1 first match of the day.  What makes this really exciting, is that we have no idea who will take it.  Mark and Clint both have big jump serves and play great defense.  I think it will come down to a battle of the big guys at the net.  In any event, it will be a fun battle to watch.  The winner moves to the semi and the loser goes to the contenders’ and has a chance to make it back to the semis, so this could be a preview of the final. However, there are very strong teams from Spain and the Ukraine to deal with first.

After all of this volleyball and rain, we rushed back to take long hot showers and get to bed early.