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Beal Blog: Ups and Downs in Poland

Sept. 03, 2014, 12:07 p.m. (ET)

This report is a little hard to write. Our men lost a real heartbreaking match this afternoon to Iran (IRI), 3-2.

This was really two different matches; sets 1 and 2 were struggles for the USA, as IRI served and passed very well and constantly made our team side out from difficult situations, while their offense was humming along. The first set was winnable, but a couple late errors and we were down 23-25. Set 2 was worse with IRI winning 25-19. 

FIVB Men's World Championship
  The U.S. Men listen to the National Anthem on Tuesday.

Coach Speraw made a pretty big change to start the third set – moving Matt Anderson to outside hitter, Carson Clark to opposite, and bringing in David Smith in a middle position. This new lineup (different than even the four lineups used against BEL) clicked in almost every way and reeled of sets 3 and 4 25-19, and 25-18. Our serving and passing were very good and we played at a very good level. 

That set up the tiebreaker. We got down early, were behind 5-8 and then 7-10, but clawed our way to a tie at 15! We really seemed to have momentum and confidence; but a tough play in transition and a final hitting error that seemed to be a clear touch, but not reversed on the challenge and IRI had a 17-15 win. 

A few interesting thoughts about this match: USA outscored IRI 107-103, but they had 10 more first-ball kills than we did; maybe a more in-rhythm offense, which is surely the strength of that team. We had more total kills by almost 10 (my stats rarely match the official ones from FIVB), but had to get lots from second and third efforts. We out-blocked IRI by quite a bit, but also had a few more serve and attack errors.  We have a very good team (they proved that by winning the World League earlier this summer), but also a very young and relatively inexperienced team, especially at several very key positions. I think we have over half the roster who are playing in their first World Championship and I may be short one or two! We are also playing in the most challenging, and probably strongest preliminary pool!

Also, remember that the first criteria used by the FIVB to rank teams is NOT matches W-L, but POINTS earned for each match played (3 points for a 3-0 or 3-1 win, 2 points for a 3-2 win, and 1 point for a 2-3 loss). Thus, our pool has IRI with 5 pts, Belgium (BEL) and France (FRA) with 4, USA with 3, Italy (ITA) with 2 and Puerto Rico (PUR) at 0. Today, ITA came back and beat FRA 3-2 after being down 0-2, and BEL beat PUR 3-0. This ranking is very likely to change every match day, and the teams surviving this group might have fewer points than other teams advancing from less balanced and difficult groups.

FIVB Men's World Championship
  The referees review the video of the final play of the match.

The crowd was pretty impressive for an early match and almost equal between USA and IRI supporters. It’s great to see so many USA flags and the cheers for the team. The format and schedule here is quite unusual for the World Championships. It’s more like the schedule at the Olympics, with matches almost every other day. There are a total of eight off days if your team makes it to the final round – a long event. The organization has been top rate. The venue here in Krakow is really wonderful. It is just like a major USA 17,000 seat arena, with almost any amenity needed; great space to play, big overhead scoreboard, arena entertainment, nice locker rooms and just a great organization. The hotel is about 15-20 min away, but with a police escort on every trip, we just by pass the traffic and make the trip quite quickly and easily. 

Poland, as I said, is a volleyball-mad country and really has embraced this event. Every city is decorated with the banners and posters, and street flags for the World Championships; lots of sponsor visibility and great attendance. Each day there are two tickets sold; one for the first match at 1 pm; then the arena is cleared out and the 4:30 and 8:15 pm matches are the other ticket.

Krakow is a beautiful, old city with a lovely/active city center, full of street cafes, restaurants and old churches and castle-like buildings. Not sure we will have much chance to explore, but it would be easy to do to walk around and the weather has been largely cooperating. A day off to regroup, and take on PUR Thursday, also at 1!!   DB