Beal Blog: U.S. Women are World Champs

Oct. 13, 2014, 6:55 p.m. (ET)

Doug Beal is the CEO of USA Volleyball. He is in Milan, Italy for the finals of the FIVB Women's World Championship

MILAN, Italy (Oct. 13, 2014) – The U.S. Women are WORLD CHAMPIONS!! We just have to pause a bit and let that statement and accomplishment sink in and try to appreciate the enormity of it all; the historical significance. It is the first ever GOLD MEDAL for the U.S. Women at one of the big three world volleyball events; the OLYMPICS, the WORLD CUP and the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS. It is really something very special. And here’s something else pretty special: I believe Karch is the first and only person in our sport’s history to win gold medals as a player at each of those three major events and now win as a coach in one of those events.

U.S. Women's National Team
  The U.S. Women's National Team and staff celebrate their World Championship win.

Karch will not want me to go on about him. He repeatedly talked about the group and the accomplishments of the collective team, and how every player contributed; and I just left a team celebration where there were plenty of very sincere statements about each member’s role in the GOLD Medal:  players, coaches, and the entire delegation. It is more than obvious that this is a very close group, they have developed a terrific culture inside the team. But it is also true that Karch has put the pieces in place. He has not been shy about wanting this team to be the one that achieved the first GOLD for the USA in one of the big world events, and they have. He also knows, and talked about, “more work to do.” There is more to accomplish!! So, while we want to bask in this great win, and appreciate the size of the accomplishment, Karch will not let them forget there are more goals out there on the horizon; more firsts to achieve. A special group, led by a special leader.

The win over China was a match between two teams that just might have the pieces in place to grow and improve the most before the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Both have some very young and talented players in very key roles and positions, and both come from countries where the pool of talent is large and the sport is popular and growing.  It will be fascinating to follow this rivalry down the road. 

The scores on Sunday were 25, 20, -16, 24, a very close match that had each team scoring 94 points. Team USA had fewer kills, but a better attack efficiency percentage. We out-blocked them, had more aces, more digs and a better passing average. We also made fewer attack errors. China does a great job of getting good swings in transition and also was very successful attacking from the middle of the back row (the pipe!!). Both teams served very aggressively and got each other in passing trouble on a number of occasions, yet there were very few serving errors; five for USA and four for China. 

Kim Hill was a deserving MVP. She regularly hit the U.S. to a point after a pass off the net or a dig and did it against a strong block much of the night. She had a monster night, and at one point late in the second set, or early third, her kill percentage was greater than 70 percent. Pretty remarkable. Both Kim and setter, Alisha Glass, made the All-Tourney team. We could have had more. Team Captain Christa Harmotto Dietzen celebrated her birthday and was a wall at the net with seven stuffs. Hard to have a better present.

Some of the best volleyball the U.S. played was at the end of sets 1 and 4; getting the win in set 1 after a slow start that had us down early 6-2 was important for the confidence. It carried over through the second set, which we played well to get up early. We went through a lull that had China tie us at 15 and lead 16-15, before we pulled away late.

Doug Beal, Paul Sunderland, Aleksandr Savin and Karch Kiraly
  From left, Doug Beal, Paul Sunderland, Aleksandr Savin and 
  Karch Kiraly. Beal coached both Sunderland and Kiraly to the
  Olympic gold medal in 1984. Savin won the Olympic gold in 1980
  with the Soviet Union.

The third set saw us have some passing and sideout problems, lose our rhythm and let China gain confidence and become more aggressive offensively. The Chinese team pulled away after the first technical time out and never really looked back. Then we re-grouped, started the fourth set strong, got up 14-10, then 16-13, and then watched as China served and blocked its way back and into a 22-19 lead.  But from that point, we might have played the best volleyball of the event that I saw; making great serves, siding out with terrific swings and getting a couple key blocks. If we touched it, we scored. It was a great run to end the match and become WORLD CHAMPS. 

It would be easy for me to go on. I have never had the experience of having our women win a World Championship; and so I will a bit longer. The crowds here in Milan were great. They passionately supported their team and were horribly disappointed when Italy lost to China in the semifinal match. Yet they packed the hall today for the third-place match that Brazil dominated for two sets, only to see Italy come back to force a fifth-set tie break won by Brazil to claim the bronze. 

The crowd stayed for the GOLD medal match, supported both teams, loved the USA victory and then stayed longer for the award ceremony – a long one at that. Seeing the USA on the podium and hearing the national anthem never gets old. Italy has been a very friendly place for our indoor teams this summer with the men winning the World League in Florence in July and this great triumph in Milan during the longest World Championship ever.  

Both world championship tournaments this summer/fall have been significant achievements for the FIVB with huge crowds, great promotion, and publicity as well as the use of new technology for the coaches’ challenge system.  The system needs work and refinement, but it is a terrific tool to entertain and inform the viewing public.  There was also a test prototype of a net that can be used as an LED screen for information, for match statistics, sponsor messages, etc.  All seems very positive to me as we increase the use of new technology, engage different generations and try to continue to cater to our base population. All in all, I can’t imagine a better way to end the season!

I also want to thank all those out there who sent messages of congratulations. It is really encouraging to know how many people are USA team supporters and feel like they are a part of “the team behind the team.”

Just a great performance by gutsy, talented and young U.S. players that can now call themselves World Champions! Sure am glad I got to watch live and meet and get to know more of the players.

Check out our web site for some great photos and results recaps. Ciao from a foggy, rainy Milano.