U.S. Women's National Team Approaching Busy Olympic Season

May 28, 2008, 3:11 p.m. (ET)

Bill Kauffman
Manager, Media Relations and Publications
Phone: 719-228-6800
E-Mail: bill.kauffman@usav.org

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (May 28, 2008) - The U.S. Women’s National Indoor Volleyball Team and its coaching staff are looking to conduct business as usual as possible with one of the biggest events of this generation approaching.

However, it will be a chore to view 2008 as anything along the lines of being normal. Looming ahead for Team USA this summer are several tournaments and exhibition dates, none larger than the 2008 Olympic Games at Beijing in August. In addition, the head coach for the U.S. squad will be returning to her hometown of Beijing leading the Americans on the grandest stage in front of throngs of adoring Chinese fans and international attention.

“Jenny” Lang Ping, head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Volleyball Team, is a rarity in the international women’s volleyball circles. She is the only female head coach among the top 20 countries listed in the FIVB World Ranking. Lang Ping has Olympic medal experience as both a player and coach while competing in the United States. During the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, she led the Chinese squad as an outside hitter to the gold medal over Team USA in the championship match. As head coach of the 1996 Chinese Olympic team that competed in Atlanta, she guided China to a silver medal.

According to FIVB files, Lang Ping will be moving into the company of Hungary’s Gabriella Kotsis as female coaches to lead teams into multiple Olympics. Kotsis mentored Hungary during the golden era of Hungarian Volleyball, leading the country into three Olympic Games (1972, 1976, 1980). For Lang Ping, she will be arriving at her third Olympic Games, and second leading two different countries as head coach.

“I have been through so many tournaments, I really don’t pay too much attention to the media and fans,” Lang Ping said in reference to going back to her hometown for the Olympics. “I just think about the game plan we have developed for each match and our players. I think I will be okay with maintaining my emotions in the situation. The only game that I have a concern with is against China. I will just need to concentrate on the game and probably allow my assistants to take more details regarding the match.”

Even before August arrives and Team USA steps foot on the court in Beijing at the Olympics, the Americans will be busy with its preparations for the present and future. The 2008 season starts with a trip to Mexico to participate in the Pan American Cup May 28-June 8 at Mexicali. Shortly after the team returns, the U.S. Women’s National Team will entertain the world’s top-ranked Brazil squad for three matches in Colorado Springs between June 11 and June 14. The matches will represent the first international competitions played on American soil for the U.S. Women’s team since May 26, 2006, when it hosted Poland in Chicago.

“Two things are happening,” said U.S. Women’s National Team Assistant Coach Tom Hogan, who will serve as head coach for Team USA at the Pan American Cup. “The young players selected for the Pan American Cup are going to be the future of USA Volleyball, but is the future 2008 at Beijing or 2012 at London. We already know they are the future, the question is when. It is definitely an exciting time to be part of USA Volleyball.”

Team USA then embarks on a tour of Asia and Europe for the FIVB World Grand Prix that begins for the Americans on June 20 at Kobe, Japan. The U.S. plays Turkey, Kazakhstan and host Japan on consecutive days before flying to Wroclaw, Poland. Beginning June 27 in Poland, the Americans will face Thailand, Dominican Republic and Poland on consecutive days. Team USA concludes the World Grand Prix preliminary rounds with Poland, Turkey and Italy starting July 4 at Taipei, Chinese Taipei. The World Grand Prix Finals, a round robin format with the top five preliminary round teams plus host Japan, will be played July 8-13 at Yokohoma.

With such a busy schedule, Lang Ping and her coaching staff will have few opportunities for training sessions in an effort to prepare for the Olympic Games in August and select the 12-player Olympic Games roster. Evaluation and training of players will be coupled together, for the most part, during the competitions around the globe.

“We will be using tournaments for both training and evaluation purposes this year as we really don’t have that much time together,” Lang Ping said. “We really don’t have much time to set up the offense. Our first concern is the players are healthy and remain healthy. Second, the players’ physical conditioning needs to be ready. Third, we need to try and develop a flow as a team during the match. Also, it is really hard to improve individual skills at this time, so we will concentrate a lot of our efforts on teamwork and game situations during the limited training time that we do have.”

By the first week of July, the coaching staff must submit its Olympic Games roster with alternates in case of injuries. The U.S. roster could include as many as 10 players with Olympic Games experience. During the Olympic qualifying World Cup tournament in November 2007, the American roster had eight Olympians. The U.S. captured the World Cup bronze medal and Olympic berth with a roster of three-time Olympian Danielle Scott-Arruda (Baton Rouge, La.), two-time Olympians Robyn Ah Mow-Santos (Honolulu), Heather Bown (Yorba Linda, Calif.), Stacy Sykora (Burleson, Texas) and Logan Tom, and 2004 Olympians Tayyiba Haneef-Park (Laguna Hills, Calif.), Lindsey Berg (Honolulu) and Ogonna Nnamani (Normal, Ill.). Scott-Arruda will be attempting to become only the second four-time Olympian for the U.S. Women’s National Team, matching an accomplishment set by Tara Cross-Battle (1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004).

Other veterans from the World Cup roster include libero Nicole Davis (Stockton, Calif.), middle blocker Jennifer Joines (Milpitas, Calif.), outside hitter Kim Glass (Lancaster, Pa.) and opposite Cassie Bussie (Prior Lake, Minn.). Davis and Bussie elected to remain in Colorado Springs this spring to train full time, while Joines and Glass played professionally overseas.

Battling the veterans for spots include several young players who have been training in Colorado Springs since January. Some of the young players still have remaining college eligibility, some with international experience at the senior team level and others are just out of college. Lindsey Hunter (Papillion, Neb.), who has been a reserve setter since 2006, has trained in Colorado Springs this spring and added some veteran leadership to a young training team. Middle blocker Tracy Stalls (Denver, Colo.), who participated as the first member of USA Volleyball’s National Developmental Program starting in May 2002, has resumed full-time training in Colorado Springs after finishing her collegiate eligibility. Opposite Heather Hughes (Fallbrook, Calif.) has impressed the coaching staff this spring, despite not earning All-American status as a collegian at Loyola Marymount University or being selected for a USA Volleyball youth or junior national team. Angie McGinnis (Fraser, Mich.), who just finished eligibility at University of Florida, is working to earn a backup spot at setter.

Stanford has a trio of athletes with collegiate eligibility remaining shooting for a 2008 Olympic Games roster spot. Outside hitter Cynthia Barboza (Long Beach, Calif.), a 2004 Olympic Games alternate, has been training since March. Foluke Akinradewo (Plantation, Fla.), the AVCA National Player of the Year as a Stanford junior in 2007, is taking the spring off from college. Alix Klineman (Manhattan Beach, Calif.), training in Colorado Springs since January, was the 2006 Gatorade National High School Volleyball Player of the Year and helped Stanford to the NCAA championship match as a freshman in 2007.

“I have a feeling we have 16 players to fight for the 12 spots on the Olympic roster,” Lang Ping said. “For a few positions, we will probably make a last minute decision. Before going to China, we will have four or five days training in California with 14 or 15 players in case of injuries and make our last minute decisions there if needed.”

As for deciding the final roster spots, the staff will analyze strengths and weaknesses of the team and select the player or players that best resolves the deficiencies.

“We are trying to solve this big puzzle and see which area of the game is more important to make up for areas we lack,” Lang Ping said. “For example, we may have players that are not as strong at the net, but they are great in the back row. It doesn’t mean we have to bring all the best hitters as we need balance as well. We are looking at players who play good all around. Plus, we need to look at a double-substitution roster spot. Do we want to bring a substitution player who is stronger in the front row or the back row? These decisions will need to be made to solve the puzzle.”

One benefit the U.S. gained for the upcoming 2008 Olympic Games was qualifying in the first event possible with its medal-stand appearance at the World Cup. The U.S. won its first eight matches of the tournament, including a five-set victory over Brazil, to head into the fourth and final stage undefeated. Despite a loss to Serbia on Nov. 14, Team USA claimed its ticket to Beijing with a sweep of host Japan on Nov. 15.

“I think it has been great to have qualified early,” Lang Ping said. “The players did not have to travel back and forth trying to qualify for the Olympics later in the process. They were able to concentrate on playing overseas in their professional leagues. As coaches, we have been pretty calm this spring training this young group. We were able to take them to China to get them game experience. This group will get added experience at the Pan American Cup.”

After the World Cup, the U.S. Women’s National Volleyball Team moved up the FIVB world ranking from eighth place to fourth place. Brazil leads the international ranking, followed by Italy and Cuba. Russia and China, ranked first and second respectively prior to the 2007 World Cup, dropped to fifth and sixth place. Russia did not qualify for the World Cup, while China could not compete in the Olympic qualifying tournament as it already held a spot as the host team. All six teams are considered medal contenders with chances to earn the gold medal.

“All the teams who have qualified for the Olympic Games are pretty good,” Lang Ping said. “You have to play perfect or your opponent can knock you off. I would think six to eight teams have a good opportunity to medal at the Olympic Games. Also, it will take a little bit of luck for teams as the crossover from the pool play into the quarterfinal match-up will play a role on who advances into the medal round.”

The 12-team Olympic Games field includes host China, the only team not needing to qualify through an event. Italy and Brazil placed first and second, respectively at the FIVB World Cup to earn tickets to Beijing. Russia captured the European Olympic Qualifying Tournament and Cuba won the gold at the NORCECA Olympic Qualifying Tournament to earn Olympic Games spots. Algeria won the African Olympic Qualifying Tournament and Venezuela upset favored Peru in the South American Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

The final four Olympic spots were settled in May at the World Olympic Qualification Tournament in Japan. As the top Asian finisher, Kazakhstan earned an Olympic spot. Poland, Serbia and Japan, as the top three non-Asian teams at the tournament, round out the Olympic field.