Greetings from Japan (Nagoya actually), where the U.S. Women just began playing in the FIVB World Grand Champions Cup today against the world's #1 ranked Brazi. The result was a 3-0 loss that showed both the promise of this young team and their youth and inexperience - more on the match a bit later.
It is always a terrific pleasure and honor to travel with our National Teams and watch how these young people represent the country, USAV and themselves. It makes you feel terrific about their generation and proud of the quality people who put on the USA uniforms, both indoors and out!!!! I get quite energized being around these wonderful ambassadors for our sport and their generation - seeming to always have or make time for the many tasks asked of them beyond training and watching video and playing the matches. They graciously sign and speak to autograph seekers, make appearances and promote our sponsors and partners, give many interviews, and do almost anything asked of them with a smile and friendly approach.
Most of you know that Karch Kiraly is finishing up his first full year as our Women’s Team head coach, and a very successful year it has been. Karch leads a staff that includes assistant Reed Sunahara, technical assistant Joe Trinsey and physio Jill Wosmek. The staff (which also includes assistant Tom Black when he’s not in season at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles) has done a special job of molding a group of very new players into a very strong team that qualified for the World Grand Prix Final Round, won the NORCECA Zone championship to qualify for this event and remains #2 ranked in the world - all while playing most of the season with only one or two players who were in the London Olympics winning the silver medal; no other team in the world’s top 10 had this kind of young/new group and it will surely prove significant as we move through the quad and head toward the RIO 2016 Olympic Games!!!!!
Rounding out the staff here are Ken Sullivan, the Team Leader from London, and Mike Hebert (one of the most successful and experienced coaches in our country), who……as he reminded me today at a short serve/pass practice, has been coaching USA teams on and off since 1981 - all the while amassing one of the most outstanding coaching resumes in our country at University of Minnesota, Illinois, Pittsburgh and maybe other stops that I should remember, and being retired now is a wonderful consultant to Karch and the USA women. Anyway, the point of all this is that we have a great staff, a great group of young ladies, a great environment and a team that looks like it will continue to get better and better as the quad moves along and one that is very exciting to watch.
This tournament brings together host Japan; the Confederation champions from Europe (Russia), from South America (BRAZIL), from Asia (Thailand) and from NORCECA (USA), and a wild card team (Dominican Republic). Its round robin and results are based on record with no playoffs or finals. The USA plays Japan tomorrow, has a day off to travel to Tokyo, then plays Russia, Thailand and Dominican Republic in that order.
The other results today had Dominican Republic over Thailand 3-0 and Japan over Russia 3-1. We have our work cut out for us, but this event is really providing great experience to our players and allowing the staff to get some great matches, learn more about some of our top competition and test some new ideas and tactics.
Our team gathered directly from their professional clubs here in Japan about a week ago and trained together with the Japanese squad at the national training center in Tokyo. The facility was excellent and the hosting by the Japanese Volleyball Federation was top notch, as usual. We value our relationship with the Japanese Federation and can’t say enough about their willingness to host us and offer the opportunity to train in such a great environment.
We have 14 players here and they came from all over the world - even the USA; from Turkey, Russia, Germany, Brazil, Azerbaijan, and from Japan to Japan!!! It was quite a feat to coordinate the travel to have everyone meet up in Tokyo within a few hours of each other.
I have to say a word or two about the team captain, Kristin Hildebrand; or Kristin (Richards) Hildebrand. It makes me feel a touch old, but also very happy to know that Kristin is the daughter of Dave Richards who played for the USA just a few years ago (1977-1979) when the men’s team was training year round in Dayton, Ohio. Dave was one of the most wonderful, up beat, enthusiastic and nicest people to ever play for the USA; and he’s passed all those admirable genes along to his equally wonderful, up beat and enthusiastic daughter - and maybe even some additional volleyball talent genes as well.
OK, a bit about the match. The USA started with Glass setting, Murphy opposite, Larson-Burbach and Hildebrand hitting outside, Gibbemeyer and Paolini in the middle; the libero was Banwarth. The scores were 26-24, 26-24 and 25-20 for Brazil---close with a chance to take one or possibly both of the first two sets (USA led both at the 2nd technical time out, 16-15, and 16-14). It seemed to me that we never got very comfortable serving and passing. BRA gave up 0 aces, while USA made 11 serving errors, kills were close 43-41 for the USA, but Brazil out blocked us 10-6.
The game today is often decided by just a few plays each set; Brazil was a little better from the service line, made us set a few more balls from deep off the net and killed a few more in transition. Karch has some very definite ideas about how he wants this team to play, and his sights are clearly set on being their best in qualifying and playing in RIO. Almost everyone got in this match, especially to try to put some pressure on Brazil from the service line - it just didn’t happen enough today and Brazil got the win.
Tomorrow will be very challenging as well going against the home town Japanese team, especially after their nice performance to beat Russia. More after tomorrow’s match.
NOTE: Doug Beal is the chief executive officer of USA Volleyball