Christa, Karch Give Media Insight at Team Press Conference

By Bill Kauffman (bill.kauffman@usav.org) | Aug. 03, 2016, 11:47 p.m. (ET)

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (Aug. 3, 2016) – The U.S. Olympic Women’s Volleyball Team held its pre-Olympic press conference on Monday in Rio de Janeiro as over 100 media peppered head coach Karch Kiraly and captain Christa Dietzen with a variety of questions. Below are some of the questions and responses.

Karch Kiraly opening statement
“Once the Olympic groups were announced, we saw that we had a very strong group, and I think that is the best possible thing to happen for each of us in this group. We will get to face a lot of fierce battles and that is what we have been preparing for the last four years. We are extremely excited to be here.”

Christa Dietzen opening statement
“We are thrilled to be here in Rio for the Olympic Games. First of all, Rio loves its volleyball. We are excited to compete on this stage with big crowds. As Karch said, we drew a very competitive pool and we wouldn’t want it any other way. I think in general this team deals with challenges and adversity very well, and that is one of the characteristics of our team. As our team would say, there are 12 here but we have a whole crew that has come through our gym the past four years that has allowed these 12 athletes to compete at the highest levels. We always say that we are much stronger than the 12 here and we are excited to compete on this stage.”

Karch Kiraly on the team’s journey to Rio with such a young group “We have a nice blend of experience in people like our captain Christa, who is competing in her second Olympics, along with Foluke Akinradewo, Jordan Larson and Courtney Thompson. We have eight players who have not competed in the Olympics previously. However, those eight players since 2013 have had many chances to battle and compete and at the world level such as World Grand Prix, World Championship and World Cup. We have a group that might not look that experienced on paper, but they have logged lots of matches. We have counted them up, and we have probably played over 150 times with a USA uniform these last four years. Nobody has played all of those matches, but all the players here have played the bulk of those matches. That has been great preparation for us.”

Christa Dietzen on the team culture since 2013 when Karch took over as head coach
“I think when there is a new Olympic cycle, after 2012, some players retired and we saw some returning faces and new faces. Personally, for me, I was more of a rookie last Olympic Games. All of a sudden one year later, I was a veteran. I have had the opportunity to lead, along with the other three returning Olympians along with Courtney Thompson, Jordan Larson and Foluke Akinradewo among others who had the opportunity to lead the culture along with Karch. To sum it up, we are a very team-first, self-less culture. I think we had to take these younger girls under our wing in 2013. We played a lot of matches in some pretty competitive stages such as World Championship, World Cup and now Olympic Games. I think it very important to know the 12 faces here are just a small part of the 25-40 teammates who have been in our gym the past four years. We have all played a large part in building this team-first, very self-less culture. I think it serves us well in competition with a lot of trust, another characteristic of this team just because of the adversity we faced, the challenges we faced. We have had opportunities to be vulnerable with each other in environments. When you are vulnerable, that is when the trust comes. I am really excited to compete alongside these girls, and we are excited to be here.”

Karch Kiraly on what was learned from winning silver at World Grand Prix instead of gold
“Our one competition this year was World Grand Prix, and overall it was a great experience for us. We played a number of the teams who will be contending very fiercely here for some type of Olympic medal. Brazil has to be thought of as a favorite for a medal for standing on the podium. China has to also as the world’s No. 2 and No. 3 teams here. They are not the only ones by any means – there are a lot of great teams here such as Russia, Serbia, Italy, Netherlands, Japan, Korea and the list goes on. It is a really deep field. All of those matches (at World Grand Prix), win or lose, were great chances for us in our only competition. We had a nice battle against Brazil (a five-set loss in the gold-medal match), and we know that any team that aspires to do something special here that route will go through teams like China and Brazil. Any team that gets to play Brazil here will be an amazing atmosphere. This is probably going to be the best volleyball, indoor and beach, Olympics ever with this country. Brazil is so volleyball crazy. As soon as we learned seven years ago that the Olympics would be here, we knew this would be a special place for our sport to compete.”

Christa Dietzen on playing in Brazil
“I have had the opportunity to play here in Brazil three or four times in various locations throughout my National Team career. A very specific match comes to mind. It was 2012 World Grand Prix, the fans were so passionate and so loud in the gym with drums, horns, any type of noisemakers. I remember stepping off the court in a timeout and not even able to hear myself think – and I was like ‘Wow, this is so awesome.’ This country has so much passionate, so much pride and knowledge for the sport of volleyball. We are very excited to be here. Brazilian fans have so much knowledge of the game and respect good volleyball, and Brazil is one of the powerhouses in the world. We are excited to see what kind of crowds will be here in Brazil and excited to compete.”

Karch Kiraly on the changes he has seen since his first Olympics in 1984
“I think each Olympic Games organizer learns from the previous organizers. Even with something like processing that our athletes went through in Houston to get their gear, the manner in which they were treated was tremendous and they found ways to improve since London four years ago. This is going to be a Games with a great flavor, but looking back on what it was like in 1984 and how sophisticated things like the huge meal hall that has to feed something like 20,000 people in the Olympic Village once at full capacity, the logistics and such - I can’t even imagine to organize something like that. One of the things we take pride in is just being learners and improving and being better the next time we do something. Better today training than the last time we trained. So the Olympics are the same way. Rio, along with the flavor and the spirit that Brazilian sports fans and in particular volleyball fans have, it is going to have a flavor all of its own here along with ways to run things even better.”

Christa Dietzen on the Olympic Village conditions
“So far, the Village has been wonderful; the food has been great. Just the scenery with the waterfalls, the pools. Yeah, so far it has been great.”

Karch Kiraly on how he decided on becoming a coach
“When I was competing, and I competed for a very long time, I was not at all convinced I would be a coach. What really got me started in coaching, which was not very long ago, was when one of my sons was playing for his secondary school team and had a really rough season, lost every match, lost every set of every match. My wife said, ‘You know what, you got to help them out a little bit. Let’s see if you can help them to have a less than perfectly abysmal season.’ And that is what got me into coaching, and I loved it. I loved coaching our boys and that age group. Through a series of somewhat fortunate, I guess somewhat accidental, and somewhat planned circumstances I ended up being the assistant coach for these USA Women to head coach Hugh McCutcheon who had won Olympic gold the USA Men’s team in 2008 and became the women’s team head coach right after. I really enjoyed that experience. It was a huge amount of learning as the assistant coach under Hugh. I really liked working with this really special group of incredibly intelligent, powerful, talented, hard-working, dedicated women. So this was an easy decision for me to make once Hugh stepped down and stopped coaching the USA women. It was an easy decision for me to continue in this current role.”

Karch Kiraly on his coaching philosophy
“First and foremost, I am a teacher and I try to facilitate the highest level of team performance possible. The key word there is team because we are a team. I am trying to be a servant leader. Wherever we can, based on my experience as a player, we have tried to hand over a lot of the driving and guiding as we rely on our players who are on the court who have to make a lot of the real-time decisions, real-time observations of the game to have a lot of autonomy to take care of that. That is the way a team performs the best. One of the parts of my philosophy is to also to try to create a team that adds up to more than the sum of its parts. We have a lot of really good parts to start with. Some teams add up to less, some teams add up to about the sum of their parts. We want to add up to more than the sum of our parts.”

Karch Kiraly on what it would mean to win gold as a coach
“I don’t know what it will mean. If we can make it happen, and it is our job to try to make things like that happen, I don’t know if it will take a hundred years or less than a month for the USA Women to stand on top of the podium. But that is what we are aspiring to do. However, the more we think about that event happening, the less chance it will happen. What we have to think about now is our training today and how we get better this afternoon. We are a lot about process.”

Karch Kiraly on USA setter Alisha Glass
“Alisha, who was very close to making this team four years ago, is one of the top setters in the world and really drives this team. One of the things we pride ourselves on, along with being a second family, a volleyball family, is a team that runs fast. When we are running our offense, things happen pretty quickly and the ball isn’t in the air very long and that is the way we want it. So we give opposing blockers and defenders less chance to react and get in good spots. And Alisha is a master at that, and that is one of the many, many reasons why we love having her on this team.”

Christa Dietzen on if she realizes how many fans back in Pennsylvania are cheering for her to bring home gold
“First of all, I am very happy and proud of being from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I have received emails, messages from all over the state, including Penn State where I spent four years. It is wonderful to receive that kind of support. I always say this Olympic experience is much bigger than myself, and I take with me all those who have been with me on this journey – and a big chunk of that journey has been both in my hometown of Pittsburgh and also at Penn State. I am very happy to represent that part of the country.”

Karch on USA middle Rachael Adams’ character and ability that landed her a spot on the team
“We were just talking this morning about how we were walking by people that we know nothing about in the (Athlete Village) dining hall, and there is probably about 3,000 people in there each of whom has an incredible story that we would love to know more about, but unfortunately we have to go about competing in this Olympics. Each of the players on this team, we have 12 here, but our normal group is closer to 30 in a given year like 2013, 2014, 2015. Each of those players has a unique story and a story that involves a lot of fighting through adversity. Rachael has a story that got her on the team in 2013, and she had some success, then needed to work through some big challenges and it has made her into the person and player she is today. Working through that actually was not the easy route – very few players have had an easy route or had it stay an easy route when they are on this team. They are basically the stud on their college team, but when they get to our gym, everybody is a stud. It is a battle every day. But that is what makes us the team we are. People, no matter whichever side of the net they are on in the USA gym, they will lose because the competition is so fierce on any day of training. That type of training and adversity is exactly what we need to prepare to try to do very difficult things like win a World Championship, World Cup or Olympic Games. And so Rachael’s story is a great one.”

Karch on what he brings different this quad in facing Brazil when the past the USA has struggled in the finals of major competitions such as the Olympics
“Brazil is certainly a great program – one of the elite and legendary programs in women’s international volleyball as well as men’s international volleyball. They have a lot of advantages here. They have a lot of players back from one or two Olympic gold medals in the last two Olympics. A lot of the great coaching staff is back, and now they get to host. So Brazil has to be thought as one of the favorites here. And Brazil beat the USA in the last two Olympic gold-medal matches. The storm they threw at us four years ago, they played a great, great match in that final after the first set. The only way the USA, or any team for that matter, can overcome that is a team that can battle extremely well together with trust. That is some of the things we have been working on, building on the last four years knowing how and relishing how difficult tournaments like these are to win. We are looking forward to the challenge.”

Christa Dietzen on challenges to playing in the atmosphere the Brazilian fans provide
“Thankfully we have played in some gnarly environments such as Italy in 2014 World Championships. They had a fantastic crowd there. Playing here in Brazil several times in front of sold crowds in those matches. You build and you learn from each one of those experiences. We are a very process-based team, starting from our coaching staff and working on the way down. After the match, something personally I do and several of my teammates do, is we evaluate what went well and what we can do better. In a lot of those moments in the last four years when we played in those big matches, one that stands out to me is losing to Italy in the World Championship (Finals pool play before coming back to win the tournament) in front of their home crowd. We learned a lot from that match. It prepared us for some other big crowds that we faced. I think it is very important to remember that the court is the same size, the ball weighs the same. In those moments, it is very important to control what you can control and you will continue to learn from those moments. I think when it is so loud, it is almost quiet. If you can channel your inner thoughts and control what you allow into your brain, you can handle those kinds of situations.”

Karch Kiraly on how important it is to medal as a coach after winning three gold medals as a player
“It is nothing about me at all, it is all about our USA Women’s Volleyball program. Indoor volleyball has been part of the Olympic program since 1964 and so we are beyond 50 years now. USA has had lots of good finishes there, always a contender to win every tournament that we are entered in. We would like to notch one of those (gold medals at the Olympics) at some point. Again, I don’t know if it happens this year or down the road, but that is part of our job. To contend and contend as fiercely as we can at every tournament we enter. We know tournaments like World Championship, World Cup and Olympics are the ones that teams and the fans around the world focus on a lot. We are excited to have another chance to contend for something special here.”

Christa Dietzen on the changes on the team from four years ago
“Obviously, there are different faces, some new faces. In general, the last Olympics I don’t think we faced much adversity or challenges throughout our pool play. We won successfully, and I don’t think we were pushed until that gold-medal match. I think that was definitely a focus of ours after 2012. What did we learn from these losses or any match, and what we did learn from 2012 was that this team needs to be able to better handle adversity and challenges. I think Karch does that very well. Learning throughout the last four years, I think we are ready for this challenge and our competitive pool and any competitive team throws at us. I think that was something that changed from 2012 until now. I also think that, as Karch alluded to, the speed of our offense is different. It is much faster.”