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Tyler's Take: Solving the Energy Shortage

Sept. 12, 2014, 6:15 p.m. (ET)

Tyler Hildebrand is a former U.S. Men’s National Team setter. He also serves as an assistant coach for Long Beach State Volleyball, a head coach for U.S. beach teams Gibb/Patterson & Ross/Day. He is in Poland as the setting consultant for the U.S. Men’s National Team.

BYGDOSZCZ, Poland (Sept. 12, 2014) – In the last 15 years of my life, I’ve spent a lot of time around volleyball; indoors and outdoors, playing and coaching, observing and learning. One of the more popular topics of conversation in volleyball for better or for worse is “energy” (or a number of other synonyms like fire/emotion/etc. …). Sometimes it’s all that fans, parents, club coaches talk about. If you were to poll the masses at the American Sports Center (where the national teams train in Anaheim, Calif.) at a Saturday Southern Cal Volleyball Association tournament on the reasons why the team they are affiliated with is winning or losing, it would be rare to hear anything like first-ball sideout percentage, transition hitting efficiency or setter distribution. You would hear things like “they are playing flat,” “they need to fire up,” “they needed a better warmup, they didn’t have enough energy at 8 a.m.” As a team, there are many things to focus on outside of this elusive “energy” or “fire.” Most of the time, given the right amount of effort and execution, that part of the game takes care of itself.

U.S. Men celebrate
  The U.S. Men celebrate a great play against Serbia

However, yesterday’s match was different. After playing in front of 13,000 fans of Poland in an electric environment the night before, bringing our own energy and competitiveness to the match was of high importance. The feeling at the beginning of the match was drastically different than the night before.  There was no acapella national anthem, no booming cheers from the crowd and it wasn’t Monday Night Football. It felt more like a 10 a.m. Saturday morning non BCS game. That was the illusion. The reality was that it was an incredibly important match between two contending teams at the World Championship. Both teams started out offensively very well, and it was a sideout battle for two sets. You don’t generate a lot of energy or emotion from siding out. You generate it from real points. What I’m getting at is that after two incredibly close sets (U.S. men won 23-25, 31-29, 25-17, 25-21), where the challenge of bringing that emotional energy was difficult, the U.S. men hung in there and battled their way to what ended up being a bit of a rout in the third and fourth sets. In a significantly less electric environment, the team met the challenge and outlasted the initial push from Serbia, and ended up just playing better volleyball than Serbia. With a lot on the line, the young U.S. team showed some maturity and poise, and ultimately came away with a great win.

As I said, the first two sets were a sideout battle. There was great offense and setting from both teams and real points were hard to come by. The U.S. held a 22-20 lead in the first, but gave up one too many points on sideout down the stretch to lose 23-25. Again in the second set, the U.S. held a lead in the twenties (24-21), only to give up a few late and have to go late into overtime to win 31-29. The U.S. didn’t give up a single sideout throughout overtime which showed some grit. The set ended with David Smith getting an ace on a cut serve (Fuerbs?) in front of the OH1. David Smith came in at some point in the second set. One of a sub’s jobs, outside of being an upgrade in volleyball, is to bring some new and fresh energy to the court. David did that and he was great. He did everything well and was the difference-maker in the match.

The passers again did a great job slowing down the opponent’s best server, Serbia’s opposite, who had a similar type game-changing serve as Poland’s opposite. He didn’t ever get going. Floor defense was good again. Paul Lotman had nobody up again. Matt Anderson took big swings and Max Holt couldn’t be stopped. Those are a few of the thematic traits of this team forming at World Championship. 

Two matches left in pool. If the U.S. takes six points (wins in three or four sets in both matches against Australia and Argentina respectively), then we stand a good chance of advancing to the finals. But it’s a tournament-manual cardinal sin to talk about advancement, “what if,” or any match other than the next one. So first things first, the U.S. men play Australia (Saturday at 8:25 p.m.) whom they played and beat 3-1 in pool play at the World League Final Round in a very close match. We have already started preparing for them and will come in focused and ready to play tomorrow night.

For now, we are traveling between cities and are currently on the smoothest road in Poland with a police escort, who has twice split traffic and gone right down the middle of a two-lane road, causing everyone on the bus to panic except our bus driver, who apparently has ice in his veins. We are all safe and traveling to Bydgoszcz where we will play the remaining two matches. 

Tonight’s schedule: Staff workout, some boiled meat and cauliflower soup for dinner, video and practice late.

Tomorrow’s schedule: Beat Australia