Today was a new day and the U.S. Women were a different team with a different result. Our women defeated the host Japanese 3-1 before a large (almost full house) of about 8,000 fans who cheered and supported their home country heros with great enthusiasm, energy, rhythm and passion that created a terrific sporting environment; but proved ultimately unsuccessful.
Today the USA dominated in almost every part of the game, more service points, blocking points and 13 more kills on 10 fewer swings. I keep mentioning this team’s youth and relative inexperience, but they also have gained a tremendous amount of poise and composure by playing in a number of events like tonight - beating a hometown squad while overcoming the environment that is working heavily in the opponent’s favor.
The USA started the same group as yesterday and got significant offensive production from the three outside hitters - Murphy, Larson-Burbach and Hildebrand (named player of the match by the local media). Both middles (Paolini and Gibbemeyer) were also strong offensively and handled a number of short serves with great skill and precision, that mostly led to side outs. It was especially nice to see the serving subs of Hill, Hagglund and Lichtman give the team a nice boost almost every time they came in. They all seemed to score points in every set. This is a team with some nice depth and real strengths, and they are passionate about getting better and learning to win at the highest level.
Remember that yesterday Japan beat a very good Russian team (just off winning the European Championship) 3-1, so any win over Japan is significant - especially when playing IN Japan!!!!! Also today Brazil beat Thailand 3-0, and Russia overcame Dominican Republic 3-1.
Tomorrow we have 3-4 hour bus trip to Tokyo where the tourney resumes on Friday with the USA taking on the Russians. One of the odd elements to the event is that Japan (of course) plays the last match each day, host prerogative; but also the match with Japan is the only match that has a 10-min break after the 2nd set. Japan gets the advantage of the consistent training time and match schedule; and also becomes used to the rhythm of the break in the match, while everyone else only deals with that once. Maybe it shouldn’t be that big a deal, but it sure becomes a bit unusual and the USA won the first two sets fairly handily, 25-19 and again 25-19 - then the break and a loss of 25-19, before regaining our flow and level of performance to finish off the win 25-21!!
The arena energy, the great event branding, the wonderful TV work and images shown on the big screen in the arena, the live cheerleaders keeping the crowd engaged, the thousands of “thunder sticks” makes for a great atmosphere. Playing in Japan has always been special and the conditions are generally as good as exist anywhere in the world. It’s great to see the popularity of our team and how terrific they are to give time to the many kids with parents (and adults) who want photos, autographs or just to shake hands and congratulate the team members.
After the match, the press conference, cooling down and getting ready to leave on the bus - there were a couple hundred fans outside in the parking area and our players spent another 10-15 minutes making sure they all got the time they were eager for with these wonderful representatives of the sport they clearly love. It was fun to watch and just another example of the quality of this group of young women.
On to TOKYO!!!
NOTE: Doug Beal is the CEO of USA Volleyball.