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Beal Blog: Volleyball Pride in Poland

Sept. 01, 2014, 11:54 a.m. (ET)

KRAKOW, Poland (Aug. 31, 2014) – Today was the opening match for the USA men at the World Championship being held in a number of cities in Poland.

Warsaw Arena
  Warsaw Arena waits for the fans to arrive.

We know a few things already; VB in this country is “off the charts” popular; our men won and will hopefully improve match by match; there have already been some interesting/surprising results and we have a new standard for an opening ceremony for the sport!!!!

The opening match/ceremony was held yesterday (Saturday) in Warsaw in an enclosed soccer stadium and was attended by about 65,000 red clad Polish super-fans. The opening ceremony was about 90 minutes long. The POL-SRB match was a bit shorter with POL winning easily 3-0. The crowd never stopped cheering, singing, raising the roof with energy and enthusiasm the entire time. The stadium was decorated beautifully. The President of the country helped open the event and stayed the entire time. There was non-stop music, entertainment, lights, scoreboard fan involvement, inflatables, etc.; something that many of us thought we might never see for VB in our lifetimes.

The match was much like the NCAA basketball finals played in a USA football stadium. I’m not sure many of the spectators could see what was happening on the floor (except for the images on the 10 big screens), but they had a great time and the home team won! The stadium was a sea of RED. The people came early and every seat was filled, and the place was LOUD. As part of the opening ceremony, each of the 24 teams was introduced with a short video and their flag marched onto the court. Poland was announced last and the sound was deafening; but the next loudest cheers were for the USA; not always the case in my experience of many years at these big international events, but great to hear.

It is really quite something to feel the popularity of the sport here in this country. It probably exceeds any other location in the world at this time and it’s across the board, men, women, indoor and beach. The only match played in Warsaw, the nation’s capital and largest city was yesterday!! There will be pools and finals played in six other cities, but never going back to Warsaw. You can see many images of the opening, the stadium, and the match at the FIVB web site – worth a view.

Warsaw Arena
  Poland's president at the Opening Ceremony.

I flew this morning to join our men in Krakow for their 1st round group; probably the toughest and deepest of the 4 preliminary pools (BEL, IRI, ITA, FRA, and PUR). It’s always hard to say any match is an upset or a surprise, but our group opened with Iran (IRI) beating ITA 3-1; maybe not shocking given the depth and quality of the teams around the world, but not what most people had expected. As we said repeatedly when IRI was in the US playing the 4 match USAV Cup in So. Cal earlier this month – They are Good!!! In the 3rd match today FRA beat PUR 3-0, but each set was very close. This pool will be a fight every night, and since you carry your record if/when you advance it will be hard for someone to come out unscathed. We will see. The USA started with a win over a very strong team from BEL that has recently improved and is rising in the super competitive European zone. Unfortunately, the win was 3-2 and so we get 2 points instead of 3 (for a 3-0 or 3-1 win), and hopefully that lost point won’t loom too large.

Warsaw Arena
  Poland's president at the Opening Ceremony.

The roster here is a bit different from the one that took gold at the World League Final as team captain Sean Rooney was not physically able to make the trip and Coach John Speraw used 4 different starting lineups in the 5 sets to find the right combination to get the win. The USA performance was up and down, maybe more than we want or need going forward, but it is always great to start with a win and get lots of players significant time on the court. The USA team was able to kill the ball at a much better rate than BEL, and we out-served and passed them also. Normally that would lead to a fairly comfortable win. However, BEL was good on defense, and made few attack errs and neither team got many blocks. While none of the 5 sets were really close, the match was pretty tense before the USA won the 5th set 15-11.

Serving is such a big part of the game and has been a focus of the team for some time, it was nice to see good progress and our ability to put BEL in trouble for good stretches and to take advantage for the win. As they say, this is a long tourney and we have to focus on each match and try to get better. We play IRI next with a day off tomorrow, as the event has alternate play days for the 4 pools (2 play each day for most of the 1st round). Check out the full match reports, stats, etc. on the USAV web site -- www.usavolleyball.org. More Tuesday after USA-IRI. DB