July 12, 2008 * Yokohama, Japan * FIVB World Grand Prix
The USA team had training this morning from 8:30-10 a.m., a meeting, lunch and it is game time again! Practice was at a local university – a different venue for us. We were welcomed with open arms; they even provided ball shaggers – YEAH!! It was very hot and humid today and the gym was a squelcher. They accommodated us with an extra net and some ball carts. As we left, Diane asked if I “pinned them;” of course, I took care of the instructor and all the ball retrievers. On our way out of the gym, China arrived for their practice time.
I would have reported about the Italian style warm up, but they never came to the warm up gym today???? Pre-match on the court looks like the American warm up with a couple coaches and the setter and everyone else peppering. Soon the USA team added a three-person digging and setting drill with the non-setters.
The music in the competition hall is the same every match - a constant subtle percussion instrumental and a persistent announcer – nothing that really fires ya up!! But one can feel the meaning of this rematch. After losing to Italy in the last round, they turned around and lost to Brazil in three straight yesterday.
The 2:30 p.m. match got underway with the USA in rotation 1 with Berg, Ogonna, Foluke, Barboza, Tom and Bown, Sykora as the libero.
“Jenny” Lang Ping patiently waited until the first TTO at 3-8 to talk to her team and then the last TTO at 9-16. Forced into a corner, USA takes a break at 11-19. Ogonna’s grunt as she attacks, seemed to solidify her efforts as they are too tough to handle. Foluke looked good and Tom chipped in a few points as well, but it was not enough as we lost the first set 17-25.
Rotation 6 – Ogonna, Foluke, Barboza, Tom, Bown, Berg and Sykora as libero. Passing failed us as we were behind during the first time out 2-6; we only got one more at the TTO. Danielle subbed for Bown. USA chipped away to force an Italian time out at 9-12; Logan was enfuego. Kim Glass subbed for Barboza to serve in the net that made it 10-14. Danielle’s experience and talent kept us close.
At 18-18 there was a whistle for the illegal back-row attack from Italian pipe. Foluke tied it up at 19 with a powerful middle attack followed by a triple block, dominated by Dani and Italy took a timeout at 19-20. At 21 all, Kim G served a down the line ace. We lost a point off our block, but Dani found the slide to tie it up at 22. Time out at 23 each. Set point was probably one of the best rallies in the whole tournament – lots of defense, lots of blocking. Losing that rally, Tayyiba came in to block for Berg at 24 all. Italian right side just missed the sideline, but came back to find the middle of the court for a point. Berg back in for offense at 25-all as a blocker came in for their front row setter. Foluke gets it on the slide, but Italy won the next point for 26s. We earned set point and Ogonna served a tough floater to the Italian floor for the ace and the set 28-26.
Set 3 was back to Rotation 1 with Berg, Glass, Foluke, Ogonna, Tom, Scott-Arruda and Skykora; three outsides sharing the duties. We began with our signature slow start behind by 4 at the TTO. We were able to tie it up at 10, 11, 12 and 13, persistently playing from behind. A Stacy Skyora, out of system save sets up Tom for an overpass for point 14, but Italy already up by one went into the second TTO ahead at 14-16.
Italy cannot seem to get more than two ahead, but they kept their distance with successful tipping. Italy continued to dig us as the sets are not quite to the pin. Out of the 17-19 time out, Italy takes their setter captain out with a bigger block, but they don’t need it as the server aced us in the corner pocket, followed by an attack out of the middle – 17-21. Italian setter back in just after Ogonna strikes down the line. Back-to-back missed serves by Kim Glass brought in Nicole Davis to the back court. The Italian coach looked good as he too brought in a defensive specialist who dug Foluke’s next quick; the Italians were able to counter and get point 23 to our 18. A needed net fault whistled on the Italians helped our cause, until young Foluke served in the net. Berg set it outside to no one as Tom’s footwork was coming inside for something else – set 3 went to the Italians 19-25.
Berg started set 4 at the service line, followed by Glass, Foluke, Ogonna, Tom and Scott-Arruda with Sykora as the libero. We were up 3-1 with Kim Glass serving and some great defense and then a deep block by Foluke and Tom on the right side. Hopes dashed for more time at the line as Kim served out of bounds, but Ogonna got it back for us slicing the ball to area 2 from the right pin– 5-2.
Italy and the USA share points, with us in the lead by two as the TTO horn is sounded. The Italians returned to the court to capture the next two, but Foluke attacked the slide with a vengeance. Glass adds one in transition and Italy took a time out at 11-8. Tom with picture perfect posture on the pass delivered to Berg who set outside to Ogonna for the kill. A hook shot type swing from Foluke got us the ball back at 13-11. Sykora on the tip, but Logan reached back and forced an unplayable ball, but made up for it by a cross court point. We got the next one by an Italian hitting error and our opponents called a time out at 16-13.
Italy got one on a cross court graze of the line; Kim G split the block 16-15. More trading of points and Foluke allows USA a two point lead at 18. A penetration call and the Italians had new life. USA took at time out at 18 a piece. With an Italian ace, followed up with Foluke getting stuffed for the first time; we were down by two. A disappointing next point, as Italy defends us really well. An out of system hitting error and the USA took its last time out at 18-22. Match up blocking with Kim Glass on the right side and Berg in the middle, we got tooled, but Ogonna converts in transition and it was 19-23. The Italian tip worked again over the block and Davis is brought in for Glass. Logan Tom is blocked straight down to end our fight in 4 sets, 19-25.
At the press conference, shared some kudos to the youngsters who played, especially to Foluke, who by the way led our team in points today. Jenny spoke to Italy’s strengths: blocking and defense. She, too, was pleased with Foluke’s performance and spoke of her great potential as a player.
The Italian coach did divulge that Antonella Del Core, one of their players not here at the Grand Prix, will not be at the Olympic either and said that the audience could direct their questions to their team doctor.
One more match remains against China tomorrow. For now it’s video time and then dinner.
Team Leader, U.S. Women's National Team at World Grand Prix