Contemplating a World League Loss
I have been in Belgrade, Serbia since Sunday as part of the FIVB control committee getting ready for the World League Finals. This will be the 2nd time Serbia has hosted the finals (2005), same city and same very nice arena; a large (22,000 capacity) relatively new facility that has all the typical rooms and amenities you would expect in any state of the art NBA arena in the USA.
Our men really did a nice job to win their preliminary pool with ITA, NED and CHN to qualify for the final round for the 3rd consecutive year. It was particularly significant as the staff is almost entirely new, we are playing with about half the squad that won the gold medal in Beijing and we got a very late start. New coach Alan Knipe couldn't really focus on his new role until the men's collegiate season was over in early May.
It's also worth adding that the home weekends of the World League in San Jose, Chicago and Wichita were our most successful ever - drawing almost 5000/night attendance and setting a very high quality of hosting that has the visiting teams, as well as the FIVB sending us regular unsolicited praise. Our partners in all 3 locations, the regions of USAV and our staff producing the events worked long and hard to make these events great. Our TV partners (ESPNU and ESPN2) are showing all the matches - with repeats, and many times in primetime hours; all in all a very successful preliminary round.
Now on to the match played earlier tonight; the USA came out on the short end of a 3-0 result against the hosts in the feature match of a double header that saw CUB defeat ARG in the opener 3-1. The environment was wonderful (especially for the hosts), as almost 11,000 very enthusiastic and noisy Serbs enjoyed the win. There was a wonderful ceremony before the start of our match that introduced the Yugoslavian gold medal winners from the 2004 Sydney Olympics to the appreciative crowd (3 of whom are still on the current Serbian roster).
The scores were 20, 23, and 22; and while the match was competitive and the USA had a chance to win the 2nd set; Serbia was the better team tonight. Most of the teams here are a mix of experience and youth - and the level is surely below what was demonstrated in Beijing. This is, after all, the start of the quad and London is a long way off!!!!
The new staff of Alan Knipe: Gary Sato and technical coach Chris Jackson are learning the team, their opponents and the international world. There are some terrifically talented young players who give the USA more depth than we, perhaps, have had in some time; we also can expect to see Reid Priddy, Ryan Millar, and Riley Salmon returning later this summer/fall to provide a boost of experience and maturity to that gained now with this young team.
Even though we lost 3-0 the only really big statistical difference in the match was in transition/counter attack; USA scored only 5 points there to 17 for SRB - in virtually every other area we were as good or better than our hosts.
Tomorrow, we have the Russians in another 8:30 p.m. (local time) game - a must-win or go-home situation. The opener tomorrow has CUB taking on BRA in the other pool. Every time we get to play one of the top teams it's a chance for the young players to grow. Tomorrow's match against a great team like Russia is just such a chance.
Follow the team live on the FIVB web site.