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Tyler's Take: A Big Win

Sept. 11, 2014, 10:24 a.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 and is also taking over the post-match blog for USAV CEO Doug Beal, who has left Poland.

U.S. fans in Poland
 Fans cheer for the U.S. as it plays Poland in Lodz.

LODZ, Poland (Sept. 11, 2014) – I know Doug Beal mentioned the Polish fans in his last blog entry, but I would like to elaborate on his notes a bit. Last night, the U.S. men played on the best stage in volleyball, playing Poland in Poland. We all know that volleyball around the world is a popular sport, but here it's something different, something special. A few nights ago, when the U.S. played Italy in Krakow, there were 16,000 fans in attendance for our match while Poland was playing at the same time on live TV. It's hard to describe the support and passion the fans have for this sport in words or in a blog. But when they play the first note of their national anthem, and the sold-out crowd takes it from there with a booming acapella version, you know you are playing Poland in Poland, and there is no better stage in volleyball.

But there was much more than just playing in our sport’s version of Monday Night Football last night. There was a match against the then-No. 1 team in our side of the bracket of World Champs and the U.S. needed a win in order to keep alive hopes of advancing to the final round. The U.S. Men did just that, winning 3-1 in four really tight, well-played sets, 29-27, 25-22, 25-27, 25-23.

The match started out with some opportunities for the U.S. to turn a few real points, and Matty (Matt Anderson) took some big swings early to get the U.S. the advantage that they kept throughout the first set. That was a theme for the U.S. Men the entire match; Matty making big swings on big points. Going into the match, one of the keys for the U.S. Men was to control the Polish opposite, who has a pretty special arm from the end line and attacking. Taylor Sander and Erik Shoji had some gritty passes against some of his better serves. One in particular by Erik, diving into a seam at 20-20 in the fourth set, was one of the plays of the match in my eyes. 

John Wooden, legendary UCLA basketball coach, had a mantra: "You can only fully control two things in life or sports, your preparation and your effort.” Last night, Team USA played floor defense with that mantra in mind. You could see the effort in their collective body language and execution in digging the ball. The energy and points that that earned them was a theme from start to finish. 

The U.S. Men now turn around to play Serbia at 4:40 p.m. here and 10:40 a.m. ET. Having to rest and regroup in less than 24 hours after a good win is good prep for next year’s first Olympic qualifier, the FIVB World Cup - if we qualify - where teams will play three days in a row, twice. Serbia is coming off a good 3-0 win against Italy yesterday and is two points ahead of the U.S. going into today’s match. The challenge for the US. Men is whether or not they will be able to bring the same effort and execution to today's match. Currently, Serbia has 9 points and the U.S. has 7, so a win in three or four sets will put us ahead of them in the pool. 

After today’s match, the U.S. will travel to Bydgoszcz to play the remaining two matches against Australia and Argentina before the final grouping of six teams will be decided. To use an NBA term, it’s been a "win or go home" mindset since arriving to Lodz and this second round of pool. This is great experience for this relatively young group of U.S. Men to play with everything on the line in these matches. Now I gotta go get some AB (athletic trainer Aaron Brock) magic before serve and pass!