In our most recent World League weekend, we were in Bloomington/Normal Illinios. For our team, the weekend was far from normal. We won both matches vs. Spain and thus were successful in securing our pool, and locking a return to the World League final round in Rio, Brazil. This was the first time we have been to the World League finals in consecutive years since the early 90's.
As I mentioned in my first blog, going to the final round was a big goal of our team's for obvious ($$$) reasons. But aside from money, it was a welcomed sign that we were able to win our pool when we had one of the stronger pools in the competition. Bulgaria was 4th in World ranking (we are 3rd), and Spain is also high in the rankings. Finland is certainly an up and coming team playing very well.
More rewarding than securing our pool in Bloomington came the understanding that we would not have to win our final two matches vs. Bulgaria the following weekend. Obviously, for many of our players this would provide a crucial week of rest and recovery without having to travel from CA to Varna Bulgaria. Not that the matches would be meaningless, but they could not affect our going to the final round in Rio.
Bloomington was a surprisingly nice city. We stayed in a hotel with an interesting theme, but a very comfortable one. Across from the hotel was a typically huge American shopping center, where we could find just about anything. My roommate, Dave Lee, proceeded directly to the Target store and came back with a remote control helicopter that was flown all weekend in our hotel room to my dismay. There were quite a few times that I had to King Kong the thing, batting it away from my head.
The US Cellular Coliseum was a very nice gym to play in, filled with great fans for both of our matches. In typical American fashion, people arrived in droves decked out in USA gear to show their support. After the matches, many kids and families stayed to get some autographs of what may be the closest they would get to Olympians before Beijing.
One final note that is worth mentioning: circus time. In between our sets and some technical time outs, there were quite amazing circus performers doing their thing on the volleyball court. Their "thing" consisted of one time the worlds' strongest man lifting and contorting his female counterpart on what seemed like one finger. Also, there was some kind of wheel that rolled around the gym with a girl drown and quartered inside. Hard to explain, but for most of us guys who have not been to the circus since we were kids, a lot of fun to watch. All in all, it was a great weekend for team USA.
Gabe Gardner is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This blog was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.