Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Got the Second Match Figured Out

Team USA defeated Team Poland three sets to one tonight in their second match of the two match home country World League series. The scores were 25-21, 15-25, 25-18 and 25-22. Matt Anderson stepped up and led Team USA with a 20 point performance made up of 16 kills, 1 ace and 3 blocks.

Team USA now has a solid second place standing in Pool A with Brazil leading the pack, Poland in 3rd and Puerto Rico in last place. The match was played in front of a packed house of 6,000 fans at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, IL. Team USA has won the second match after losing the first match in three out of their four World League weekend series so far including delivering world leader Brazil their first loss this past Sunday while playing away in Brazil.

As with Friday night, the Polish fans packed the house. The Team USA fans, while outnumbered, did a lot more respectable effort in supporting their team including chants and jeers (Bartman, Bartman, etc…) of their own. This volleyball crowd sounded like a Bulls NBA playoff match crowd and seemed to have a lot of fun.

Coach Knipe started the same six guys he began for the 3rd set on Friday night. David Lee, Reid Priddy and Brian Thornton were in the front row and Clay Stanley, Matt Anderson and Russell Holmes in the back. Matt Anderson delivered his first of 16 kills with a back row attack for the first point of the match. Team Poland continued to pressure Anderson in the passing department as they targeted their serves in his direction. The Polish fans attempted all night to rattle Team USA servers with their shrill whistles but almost all of the Team USA players have played in Central European Volleyball (CEV) leagues and are quite comfortable with the noisy atmosphere. Reid Priddy delivered a four point serving run in the middle of the set including an ace which brought Team USA to a 14-9 lead. Team USA maintained the 4 to 5 point lead throughout the set. Matt Anderson delivered another ace serve at the 18-14 mark. A David Lee combo quick attack in the middle ended the set. The other attacker in that combo was Reid Priddy who landed into Lee and appeared to hurt his knee. Team USA hit a dismal .290 but had six blocks. Team Poland hit .370 with 4 blocks. Service errors also contributed to Poland’s set loss. Ryan Millar entered as a blocking specialist for one point and Paul Lotman continued in his serving specialist role.

Friday deja vu seemed to set in for Team USA in the second set. A combination of getting stuffed, hitting errors and miscommunications resulted in a quick 7 to 1 lead for Team Poland. Zbigniew Bartman, opposite, continued the pressure with six crushing kills which brought him to a total of ten after just two sets. A three point run finished off Team USA as Team Poland won 25 to 15. Team USA sank to a .270 hitting percentage and delivered only one more block. Team Poland jumped to .580 hitting percentage with 2 blocks. Matt Anderson was shut out in the points department.

The first play of the third set looked like Team USA was going to struggle again including Reid Priddy having to tip two back row quick attacks due to set placement but Clay Stanley finally nailed a line shot for the first point. Team Poland errors contributed to a 3 point run for Team USA and lead to an 8-5 lead for USA at the first technical time out. Reid Priddy came out of the time out and immediately supplied another ace serve. Team USA stretched the lead to 20-10 with a blocking clinic and Poland hitting errors. A Matt Anderson tool off high hands resulted in his seventh kill of the set and a Team USA 25-18 win. In addition to his 7 kills in the set Anderson added an ace and a block kill. Team USA doubled their hitting percentage to .640 adding a block and an ace. Team Poland dropped back to .370 hitting with no blocks.

The fourth set of the night was a bit of a come from behind for Team USA. After a brief 3-2 lead Team USA fell behind by up to five points during the middle of the set. Reid Priddy seemed to struggle getting both blocked and committing hitting errors. Team USA finally tied it up at 15-15 when Poland couldn’t return a Stanley serve even after three touches. Poland setter, Krzystof Ignaczak tied the set for the final time with a setter dump kill. Two Poland hitting errors, a double contact called on Ignaczak and an Anderson kill resulted in a quick 23-19 lead for Team USA. Team USA held on to a 25-22 set win and a 3-1 match win when Michal Ruciak hit wide. This set was a statistical anomaly as Team Poland hit .520 and had five blocks compared to Team USA hitting .370 with one block. Even Coach Andrea Anastasi confessed at the Press Conference he couldn’t figure out what happened based on looking at the statistics.

Team USA will travel to Tulsa, OK to play Brazil on June 24th and 25th. Team USA needs to win both matches for any chance to make it to the World League final round being held in Gdansk-Sopot, Poland. Team Poland gets an automatic berth into the final round as the host country. Coach Alan Knipe commented during the press conference that he learned a lesson this week and will taper this week’s training regimen in an attempt to prevent a repeat in the poor first match Team USA performance.

Surprised and Not Surprised

As expected, it seemed that 4,000 of the 4,700 spectators at tonight’s first World League match in the US were for Team Polska. The volleyball savvy and proud Polish fans brought the wonderful experience of attending a European volleyball match right to the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, IL. The cheers, the songs, the whistles (versus booing) and the loudest singing of a national anthem I have heard at a volleyball match. This is no surprise for the international volleyball fan.

The surprise of the night was the play of Team USA. It was as if a group of very talented players met at an open gym for the first time. A few great individual plays and efforts were quickly lost by a lack of cohesiveness, consistency and even communications. Was this the same team that beat Brazil, number one in the world rankings, just five days ago?

Coach Alan Knipe started Matt Anderson, Clay Stanley, and David Lee across the front row. Ryan Millar, Brian Thornton and Reid Priddy were in the back row. Rich Lambourne was the Libero for all three sets. A Stanley tool kill from the left side brought the teams to the first technical time out at 8-7 USA. Both teams traded points with Team USA reaching their last lead of the game at 12-11 when Team Poland was called in the net. The Polish fans made their displeasure with the call known with the shrill European whistle. The call seemed to ignite Team Poland as they ripped five straight points in a row. The last Team USA push was started by an Anderson line shot kill followed by two straight aces by Clay Stanley. The first set closed out with a Stanley hitting wide on a line shot resulting in a 22-25 loss for Team USA. Team USA hit .310 with 2 blocks. Team Poland hit .570 with 4 blocks.

Coach Knipe kept the same lineup and rotation for the start of the second set. Team USA had a brief lead at 3-2 when the Polish setter Lukasz Zygadlo was called over the net trying to bring an overpass back. Four hitting errors and a Bartosz Kurek ace quickly brought Team Poland to an 8-3 lead at the first technical time out. The only highlights for the rest of the set were an ace for Reid Priddy and another one for Stanley. The rest of the set was marred with missed connections, sloppy passing and a lot of free balls being sent over to the Team Poland side of the net. As in the first set, Scott Touzinsky was a serving sub for Ryan Millar and Paul Lotman for David Lee. Team USA improved their hitting to .400 pace and added another block. Team Poland also improved to .580 with another 4 blocks totaling 8 after the first two sets.

The third set brought both a substitute at the middle position and a slightly different rotation to try to find a solution to their performance problems. Russell Holmes was brought in for Ryan Millar and Coach Knipe started Stanly, Lee and Priddy across the front with Anderson, Homes and Thornton across the back. Team USA seemed to have a little more energy and success in the beginning of the set settling in to an 8-6 lead at the first technical timeout. Team Poland responded after the TTO with three straight points including some poor play by Team USA. Team USA was able to battle back to a 10-10 tie after Clay Stanley crushed a line shot. The wheels on the bus fell off after that including a play where Clay Stanley and Rich Lambourne watched a shanked serve receive pass bounce between them two feet apart. One highlight of the third set was Paul Lotman subbing in for Matt Anderson at the 10-12 mark. Lotman was able to quickly put down 4 kills before the end of the match. Donald Suxho was brought in for Thornton after a Reid Priddy back row quick attack went long bringing the score to 11-16. A Paul Lotman roll shot service error (bad toss) to give the set 25-20 and match 3-0 to an excited Team Poland pretty much summed up Team USA’s performance for the night.

During the post-match press conference both Coach Knipe and Captain Reid Priddy expressed that the team had struggled during practice all week and tonight’s match was just a continuation of their practice performance.

Team USA will play Team Poland once again Saturday night at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, IL. The USA fans will be hoping for a repeat performance of Team USA’s away matches against both Poland and Brazil. Team USA won the second match of the two match series while playing in Poland and Brazil respectively. Coach Knipe commented that he hoped more Team USA fans would be in the stands for Saturday’s match. I am still expecting to see a lot of red and white in the stands.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

2008-2009 High School Growth Update

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Renewed Effort and Intensity Pay Off

The Sears Centre crowd of approximately 4,000 fans saw a much better Team USA effort compared to Friday night resulting in a 3-1 win against the visiting 2010 World League Pool C opponent, Finland. Last night’s star player Urpo Sivula was held to a “mere” 22 points when compared to his 31 point effort the night before. Clay Stanley lead Team USA with a total of 19 points including 3 from aces. Coach Alan Knipe made only one switch in starters replacing Sean Rooney with Matt Anderson on the left side. Anderson provided 16 points in the match including 2 aces and a block. Olympian Reid Priddy was removed from the match at the 3 – 3 mark in the second set replaced by Paul Lotman. Coach Knipe indicated that Reid “tweaked” his quad and he didn’t want to take any chances in furthering the injury.

Team USA started out the first set with intensity jumping out to a 3 – 0 lead which they held throughout the entire set. The starting lineup had Stanley, Holmes and Priddy in the front row with Anderson, Lee and Hansen across the back. Of course, Rich Lambourne was the Libero. The US lead 16 – 13 at the second time out and stretched the lead to 20 – 15 shortly thereafter. Finland made a five point run bolstered by a combination of stuff blocks, great digs and USA hitting errors bringing the score the closest of the whole match at 21 – 20. Team USA pushed back with their own 4 point run including a substitute serving ace by Evan Patak. A quick hit by Holmes ended the set at 25 – 21. Both teams were even on hitting percentage and blocks but the US lead in service aces, 3 to 1.

Eemi Tervaportii, the 20 year old Fin setter opened the second set with a float serve ace and scored another ace off Matt Anderson his second time around. This was a sign of things to come for Team USA especially once Team USA captain, Reid Priddy left the match. The Fin’s also put on a blocking clinic scoring 5 points on blocks. Evan Patak once again was subbed in for serving but hit long. Stanley was stuffed on the left side for the final point of the set giving the Fin’s a 25 – 18 win. Team USA started the same exact rotation as Set 1 but their hitting percentage dropped from .400 to .300. Finland hit .430 with 5 blocks and 3 aces.

Once again the Americans lead off with the same exact rotation as the first two sets with the exception of Lotman for Priddy. Each team traded sides outs and 2 point runs until the 13 – 13 mark. Team USA pulled away with a 3 point run and never looked back. For the final point, Paul Lotman was set three times in a row hitting into the Fin block with his third attempt finally resulting in the set point. He stepped up for the injured Priddy adding 3 kills, a block and an ace in the set. Matt Anderson and Clay Stanley added 5 kills each. The final score was 25 -19 and the Americans jumped to a .640 hitting percentage for the set.

The fourth set opened up with a Matt Anderson service error and another float serve ace from Finland’s Eemi Tervaportii. Team USA quickly tied it up but the momentum had moved to Finland as they lead 8 – 5 at the first technical timeout. There were several officiating calls that the Fin coach disagreed with including a pancake right in front of the down judge and the Fin bench that was ruled down. It looked like a knock down drag out fight with each team trading side out’s from 13 – 13 to the 22 – 22 mark. Clay Stanley changed the momentum with one of his classic aces. Last night’s star, Urpo Sivula was stuff blocked for the 24th and 25th points of the set. Team USA won the match with a 25 – 23 fourth set score. In addition to Stanley’s ace, Team USA has 7 blocks in the fourth set and hit .420.

You can hear more about Coach Knipe’s thoughts on individual player performances, the ever changing lineups and the starting setter position in the press conference video (posted a few days after the match).

No Answer for Sivula

Team USA had no answer for Urpo Sivula in their five set loss to Finland during the FIVB World League international men’s volleyball match tonight. The 22 year old opposite hit .570 with 28 kills, an ace and two block kills for a total of 31 points. Sivula routinely found a way to score a point with many points delivered against a three man USA block. The experienced “old timers” of Clay Stanley, David Lee and Reid Priddy kept Team USA in the match with strong play and dominated during their second and fourth set wins in front of approximately 3,500 fans at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, IL.

Team USA started Sean Rooney, Clay Stanley and David Lee in the front row with Russell Holmes, Kevin Hansen and Reid Priddy across the back. This was Holmes first start in the 2010 World League. Finland started out strong jumping out to 4-1 and 6-3 leads. Team USA battled back several times and actually took a brief lead at the 2nd technical timeout (16-15). Finland jumped ahead 23-20 on a Priddy service error, Rooney getting blocked and Sivula tooling a triple block. The set ended 25-22 Finland on a Clay Stanley service error. Finland hit .460 with 3 blocks and an ace. Team USA hit .390 with 3 blocks and 2 aces.

In the second set Coach Alan Knipe decided to dial the starting rotation with Priddy, Hansen and Holmes in the front row and Lee, Stanley and Rooney in the back. This rotation dominated from the start jumping to a 4-1 lead and at one time had a 20-11 lead. They never looked back finishing the set 24-14 on a Reid Priddy pipe attack that hit the tape and dropped in. Finland hit .310 with no blocks and an ace. Team USA hit .550 with 5 blocks and 2 more aces.

The same lineup began the third set and featured Clay Stanley serving. Stanley gave the fans a show with his first serve causing the Fins to commit a four contacts error followed up with an ace. Team USA lead 8-6 at the technical time out but began to struggle again at the 10-10 mark. Communication errors were resulting in players being out of place and easy serves hitting the floor while the team looked at each other. Finland kept a 3 to 4 point lead for most of the set at that point resulting in a 25-20 victory for the guests. Finland jumped to .540 hitting, added 4 blocks and 3 aces. Team USA fell to .400 hitting with 4 blocks and 1 more ace.

Coach Knipe inserted two new players in the starting lineup for the fourth set. Paul Lotman was brought in for Sean Rooney and Max Holt replaced Russell Holmes. The front row was Priddy, Hansen and Holt with the back row of Lee, Stanley and Lotman. The teams traded points until the 13-13 point. Team USA started to pull away with Holt getting a couple of kills and Stanley getting another ace. Holt ended up with 2 kills and an ace in the fourth set. Evan Patak subbed in for Hansen in a serving roll resulting in 3 quick points including an ace. Team USA finished off Finland 25-19. Both teams hit .570 and had one block but the home team had 3 aces to none for Finland.

The fifth and deciding set began with a mix of service errors and Sivula, Stanley and Priddy trading kills. Max Holt hit wide on a quick hit but Hansen teed it up twice for Holt the very next volley which resulted in a Holt kill making it 7-7. Matti Hietanen crushed a line shot to give Finland the 8-7 lead at the side switch. Matti Oivanen stretched the lead with his serving resulting in two back-to-back aces. The teams traded points until Sivula ends the match with his 31st point resulting from another tool of the block.

During the post match press conference, Coach Alan Knipe and Reid Priddy, team captain both alluded to their poor serve reception as a key contributor to their performance. Finland coach Mauro Berruto stated he is very proud of his young team’s performance during World League this year. Finland has intentionally chosen to play many of the younger players during this premier competition and they have performed well against all three Pool C teams which also includes Russia and Egypt. Finland has a win against Egypt and now the US and has taken at least one set in each of their matches. You can view the entire press conference at the link below.

Team USA and Team Finland will meet again on Saturday night at the same location. Tickets are available at the door.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

USA vs. Italy: Lot’s of New!

The Italian Men’s Volleyball National team will be returning to the Chicago area to play the USA Men’s National Volleyball team in the sixth round of the 2009 World League. The first match of this 2 match home series will be held tonight at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, IL. Team USA defeated Italy in both second round matches (3-1, 3-1) held in Italy in June. The last time Italy played in the Chicago area was during the 2007 World League competition where both matches were held at the brand new Emil and Patricia Jones Convocation Center at Chicago State University. There have been lots of changes in those two past years.

Team USA was coached by Hugh McCutcheon in 2007 and is now coached by Alan Knipe. Coach Knipe is on a leave of absence from a 9 year head coaching stint at Long Beach State University including a 2004 national championship appearance. Team Italy was coached by Gianpaolo Montali in 2007 and is now coached by Andrea Anastassi. Coach Anastassi returned to the Italian national team head coaching position in late 2007. While Coach Montali wore very sharp looking Italian suits while coaching during competition, Coach Anastassi looks comfortable wearing national team athletic coaching wear.

Team USA is returning 9 team members of the 2007 World League preliminary 19 man roster to the 2009 roster. The 2007 USA starting lineups versus Italy included Reid Priddy, Ryan Millar, Riley Salmon, Gabe Gardner and Brandon Taliaferro who are not listed in the 2009 preliminary 19 man roster. Team USA has been starting a younger lineup in the 2009 competition so far with Tom Hoff and Clay Stanley seeing little or no playing time. Off the 2007 World League starting roster, only David Lee has been a regular starter in 2009. Kevin Hansen has been splitting some time with Donald Suxho in the setter position.

Team Italy only has 7 returning players from their 2007 World League preliminary 19 man roster. Missing are names such as Mastrangelo, Cisolla, Fei and Paparoni. Mauro Gavotto, Cristian Savani and Andrea Sala are returning starters from the 2007 competition that are expected to be starting tonight.

Team USA won their first ever World League Gold medal in 2008 competition. They then went on to win their first Olympic Gold medal since 1988 in a highly dramatic run in Beijing. Team Italy, who has won 13 World League medals including 8 gold medals, has not placed in the top four since their third place finish in 2004. Italy did finish fourth in the 2008 Olympics. The US leads Pool A in the 2009 World League competition with 18 points and a 6-2 record. Italy is second with 14 points and a 5-3 record.

If you attended the 2007 World League matches, make sure you attend again this year as you will see lots of new faces. You should also see two Chicago area players, Sean Rooney (Wheaton, IL) and Andy Hein (Carol Stream, IL) in the starting line-ups. Tonight's match begins at 7 PM Central time.

Veteran Setter Makes A Difference

Team Italy defeated Team USA 3-1 in World League Men’s international volleyball tonight at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Illinois in front a crowd of 4,310 fans. After a great first set, Team USA struggled to get their offense to side out consistently and watched helplessly as Italy strung together 2 and 3 point runs in critical points in the next three sets. Although the team hitting percentages were close (.495 US versus .538 ITA) Team USA was out blocked 12 to 9.

For the first set, the US started Sean Rooney and Scott Touzinsky at the outsides, Captain David Lee and Andy Hein in the middle with Clay Stanley at opposite and Kevin Hansen setting. Team Italy started Cristian Savani and Matej Cernic at the outsides, Andrea Sala and Emanuele Biraelli at middle with Michal Lasko at opposite and Dragan Travica setting. Team Italy jumped to a 4-8 lead at the first technical timeout taking advantage of US service errors and an ace. The US tied it back up 10-10 when Sean Rooney crushed a no approach kill after a pancake save and a bump set two meters from the net. A five point run 16-17 to 21-17 opened up the set which Rooney ended with a high hands shot off a Rich Lambourne back bump set. Team Italy made a setter change bringing in veteran Valerio Vermiglio at 21-17. This change would be the beginning of a momentum change.

In the second set, Team Italy, lead by their setter Vermiglio, once again jumped out to a 4-8 lead at the first technical timeout. Coach Alan Knipe substituted Jayson Jablonsky for Touzinsky at that time out. After a couple of side outs by each team, Italy once again went on a run stretching their lead to 6-11 including a huge Savani line shot and a Lasko ace. The US got as close as two points but Italy ran three points at 19-21 including a stuff block of a David Lee quick attempt and a Stanley hitting error. Vermiglio connected with his middle, Biraelli for the final point (20-25). The change of setters changed Italy’s hitting percentage from an unimpressive .370 in the first set to an outstanding .620 in the second. Team USA racked up a 7-5 blocking advantage by the end of the second set but the serving resulted in 9 errors with no aces. Team Italy had 2 aces with only 6 service errors.

In the third set, Jablonsky started for Touzinsky but Team Italy continued their quick start including a 4 point run that Coach Knipe stopped with a time out at 4-7. Each team traded side outs and the US pushed the score to a 16-16 tie with a Clay Stanley ace. Side outs resulted in ties at 17, 18 and 19. A Rooney miss of a high hand shot and Italy’s Savani getting back-to-back kills pushed the score to 19-23. Evan Patak was brought on to serve for Sean Rooney hoping to get on one of his wonderful World League service runs. Patak’s first serve resulted in a poor pass and Vermiglio getting called on a double contact. It appeared Patak had another point on a back row roll shot to the end line but the up official overruled the line judge giving the point to Team Italy. Cristian Savani ended the set with another one of his booming line shot. Team Italy went up 2-1 on the 22-25 third set win.

In the fourth and final set, déjà vu set in as Team USA quickly went down by a score of 3-6 resulting in a Team USA time out. Italy sandwiched a couple of two point runs between a Stanley kill. Donald Suxho was brought in for Kevin Hansen at 10-13. David Smith was subbed in for Andy Hein at 11-15 and Team Italy quickly attacked the rookie with a quick set to Emanuele Biraelli in the middle resulting in an 11-16 score and technical time out. Team USA finally went on a run of their own getting 6 points and actually taking the lead 22-21. Italy used both of their time outs during that six point run. After knotting things up at 24 each, a David Smith service error and scramble play off of a Michal Lasko serve off the tape resulted in the US dig caroming past the US backline for the final point of the match. Italy won the match with a 24-26 fourth set score.

Middle Hitter will post expanded match coverage including match photos and press conference video Saturday morning.

That’s The Stanley I Remember

Team USA defeated Team Italy in their second home matchup Saturday night 3-1 on the back of a vintage Clay Stanley performance. Stanley did not start the first two sets of the match but subbed in as a serving specialist. He replaced Evan Patak in the third and fourth sets and lead Team USA to victory with 4 aces and 6 kills. In addition, Stanley’s overpowering serves generated at least a half dozen additional points on Italian overpasses and out-of system plays reminding the crowd of 4,183 of his 2008 Olympic MVP performance.

The first set Team USA started Sean Rooney and Scott Touzinsky at outside, Andy Hein and David Lee in the middle with Evan Patak at Opposite and Donald Suxho getting the starting setter duties. Team Italy started Christian Savani and Matej Cernic at outside, Andrea Sala and Emanuele Birarelli at middle with Michal Lasko at opposite and veteran Valerio Vermiglio as the setter. Both team traded side outs until 11-11 where Team USA ripped a three point run including a Scott Touzinsky ace in the deep right corner forcing an Italian team time out. The US had one more three point push off two Patak kills bringing them to a 23-18 lead and another Italian time out. Mauro Gavotta served long as a serving specialist for Team USA’s set point. Team USA hit .530 with one ace and 2 blocks. Team Italy hit .430 with no aces and 2 blocks. Sean Rooney had an excellent first set with 6 kills and 1 block.

In Set Two, Team USA avoided starting out in the hole like that had Friday night leading up to a 7-8 score at the first technical time out. Team Italy completed a three point run off a Lasko high hands kill and Evan Patak being called in the net. Team USA countered with a three point run including a Suxho one-on-one stuff of Christian Savani. Team Italy surged back with 6 points in a row including two block kills and a Lasko ace resulting in a 14-19 lead. Paul Lottman was brought in for Scott Touzinsky at 18-24 and Team Italy served directly to him. Despite the good serve receive Team Italy won the set 18-25 after two attempts in a row by Sean Rooney were sent back by the Italian block. Team USA dropped to a .330 hitting percentage with 0 aces and 3 blocks. Team Italy jumped up to a .500 hitting percentage, picked up an ace and four blocks.

Coach Alan Knipe made a change in the middle for the third set by starting David Smith for Andy Hein. Smith’s presence was felt as he contributed two kills and two blocks for points in the third set. Both teams traded side outs for most of the first half including a 14-14 tie. Clayton Stanley was subbed in for Patak at the 10-11 mark and contributed two aces in a row to fire up his team. A Touzinsky kill through the block gave Team USA set point at 24-18. The Italians fought off five set points but lost on a Cernic service error (long) resulting in a 25-22 score.

Coach Knipe kept Stanley in the lineup for the beginning of the fourth set. Sean Rooney and Clay Stanley rose up to the occasion and lead their team with a combined 10 kills and 3 aces in the final set. Stanley’s two aces and a back row kill were part of a five point run resulting in a Team USA 16-10 lead. Evan Patak played the serving specialist role and added his own ace in the deep right corner for a 22-17 lead. Rooney complete the match victory with a smash through an Italian double block.

With tonight’s win, Team USA can lock in first place in Pool A with a single 3-0 or 3-1 win in one of the their two remaining pool play matches against The Netherlands next weekend in Wichita. The winner of each pool advances to the Final Round of Six being hosted by Serbia. The final round will be played over 5 days in Belgrade. The four pool winners, the host country (Serbia) and a wild card team will make up the six teams. Team USA has advanced to the Final Round both in 2007 resulting in a fourth place finish and 2008 where they won their first World League championship.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Boy’s High School Volleyball Continues Growth Trend

The number of boys participating in high school volleyball increased 3.6% in the past twelve months according to the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) survey. There were 47,878 boys playing boys volleyball at some level during the 2007-2008 school year compared to 46,224 during the previous year.

The NFHS released its 2007-2008 High School Sports Participation survey results on September 4th. In that initial release, certain state boy’s volleyball information appeared either missing (Missouri) or needed clarification (California). Middle Hitter recently communicated with NFHS regarding this information and received a prompt response and clarification. The NFHS results are based on figures from the 50 state high school athletic/activity associations, plus the District of Columbia that are members of the NFHS.

The fastest growing states were Ohio, New York and Wisconsin. California reported the same exact number of boys participants as there were in the 2006-2007 school year. NFHS indicated that some states only calculate the participants every two years versus every year but could not confirm if this were the case for the 2007-2008 California figures.

The top three states in number of participants were California, Illinois and New York. California doubles second place Illinois in total number of participants (see table). New York displaced Pennsylvania (3,636) for third place. One of the more interesting statistics is the average number of participants per school. Illinois clearly outranks other states with a 36.7 number of participants per school program. California which ranks number one in participants and schools falls to ninth place in average per school (23.48).

A top ten list of the above statistics plus an 18 year history of boy’s high school volleyball participation can be found on the web site version of this article “High School Program Growth”.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Team USA Aces Way into World League Final Six

The following post is an article I posted on www.middlehitter.com originally on July 12, 2008. I posted it here on the blog as it has been moved to the website archives.

Team USA clinched first place in Pool C of the 2008 World League preliminary rounds behind the power of a strong serving and blocking game including 9 aces. The scores were 24-26, 25-22, 25-13 and 25-18. Earlier in the day Finland defeated Bulgaria 3-2 in Varna setting up the clincher. Tonight’s match was once again held at US Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington, IL in front of another large crowd of 4,957. Reid Priddy lead Team USA with 21 points including 15 kills, 5 blocks and 1 ace. Iban Perez, despite missing the fourth set, lead Team Spain with 14 points consisting of 13 kills and 1 block.

Tonight’s starters for Team USA were Reid Priddy, Lloy Ball and Ryan Millar in the front row. David Lee, Clay Stanley and Sean Rooney started in the back row with Rich Lambourne as the libero. Team Spain started Francisco Rodriguez, Iban Perez and Julian Garcia-Torres in the front row with Javier Subiela, Guillermo Hernan and Manual Sevillano across the back. Alexis Valido was the libero.

The first set began much like the last set of Friday night’s match with Team Spain leading much of the match and each team getting short runs of points. Clay Stanley lead the set with 1 ace and 5 kills including one cross court smash from the left side that caused pain when it bent back Spain libero Alexis Valido’s fingers as he attempted to dig it with his hands. Team Spain was serving tough many times choosing Sean Rooney as their target. Coach Hugh McCutcheon substituted Riley Salmon for Rooney at the 11-14 mark after Rooney shanked an Alfonso Flores serve. Reid Priddy tied the match at 24-24 with a cross court kill off the libero with no blockers up. Riley Salmon was wide on the next attack and Spain stuffed Ryan Millar for the set point winning 26-24.

In the second set both teams served strong and were siding out effectively. After a Team USA time out, a Francisco Rodriguez attack hit the tape and rolled across out of bounds setting up another Clay Stanley serving run. Stanley’s service took Team USA from 19-20 to 23-20 including two aces. During this run Coach McCutcheon substituted team captain Tom Huff as a blocking specialist for Riley Salmon. Huff served as the middle with Ryan Millar playing the left side position. A Rodriguez jump float service error gave USA the 25-22 set victory.

Team USA provided a blocking and serving clinic during the third set winning it 25-13. Lloy Ball, Priddy and Millar each served an ace. Reid Priddy had 3 of Team USA’s 6 blocks during the set. Coach Marcelo Mendez tried several substitutions to re-energize his team but to no avail. The Hoff-Salmon sub during Stanley’s serve at the 18-8 mark resulted in a Millar kill from the left side and a Hoff kill in the middle.

During the final set both teams traded side outs until another Stanley service run brought Team USA to an 11-8 lead. Juan Carlos Barcala started the 4th set in place of Iban Perez. Kevin Hansen was substituted for David Lee as a serving specialist but served wide right. Ryan Millar once again scored a kill from the left side during the Stanley serve, Hoff-Salmon sub strategy. David Lee ended the set and match with a quick in the middle.

Team USA will travel back to Anaheim then head to Varna, Bulgaria for their final two matches. The team will travel directly to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the finals after the matches in Bulgaria. It is anticipated that Team Bulgaria will be using their most experienced players during those two matches in Varna. This was not the case during the US matches held in Hoffman Estates, IL. Gabe Gardeners injury appears to be minor as it was reported that he did participate in practice earlier in the day.

Team USA Finds Way to Win in Three

The following post is an article I posted on www.middlehitter.com originally on July 11, 2008. I posted it here on the blog as it has been moved to the website archives.

An unexpected large crowd of 4,610 cheered Team USA to a 3-0 victory (25-19, 25-23, 27-25) at US Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington, IL. The central Illinois city of Bloomington is 3 hours away from Chicago and St. Louis in an area with no boy’s high school or club volleyball programs. Add in the fact that the AVP Crocs Slam McDonalds Chicago Open was being held at Oak Street Beach in Chicago, IL was drawing Chicago area fans away from the World League match.

Team USA entered the match with a 7-1 record and first place in Pool C. Their only loss was a 2-3 setback against Bulgaria on the second night of their home match duo in Hoffman Estates, IL. Team Spain enters this match with a 3-5 record in Pool C. Spain’s wins are two off Finland with an additional upset victory against Bulgaria (3-1). Team USA defeated Spain twice last weekend while playing in Spain.

Team USA qualified for the 2008 Beijing Olympics during the NORCECA Continental Championship by taking the Gold medal in January. Spain’s last chance at qualifying for the Beijing was the World Qualification tournament held in Düsseldorf, Germany May 23rd-25th. They missed their opportunity with a 1-2 record. Their losses were to Team Cuba (1-3) and the winner Team Germany (2-3).

Starting for Team USA was Reid Priddy, Lloy Ball and Ryan Millar in the front row with David Lee, Gabe Gardner and Riley Salmon in the back. Rich Lambourne was the libero. Starting for Team Spain was Luis Pedro Suella, Iban Perez and Julian Garcia-Torres in the front row with Javier Subiela, Alfonso Flores and Manuel Sevillano in the back. Alexis Valido was the libero.

The young Spanish team quickly found themselves down 7-2 in the first set despite an early time out called at 4-2. Gabe Gardner was stuffed blocked at 12-6 but landed awkwardly catching himself on the right side post. He was immediately removed from the match and replaced by Clay Stanley. Both teams traded short runs of points throughout the rest of the match. Team USA ended the set with another stuff block. Team USA hit .440 with 6 blocks and 1 ace in the first set. Team Spain hit .290 with 2 aces and two blocks. Tom Hoff entered the match as a blocking specialist at 21-15.

In the second set it appeared to be all Team Spain as they led the entire match until the last few points. Spain jumped out to a 7-3 lead by shutting down a Clay Stanley attack prompting Coach McCutcheon to call a time out. Team USA stayed close throughout the match assisted with 5 aces and 5 Team Spain service errors. Coach McCutcheon called his second time out when Spain went up 22-19. Luis Pedro served into the net after the time out and Lloy Ball poked the second contact to the deep back right corner after seeing the Spanish libero Alexis Valido drawn up expecting a tip. The shorter Valido was able to jump up to get a finger tip on the dump shot but it was deflected past the end line for a Team USA point. Team Spain recovered with a Perez cross court kill making it 23-21 Spain. A Clay Stanley cross court kill followed by a Lloy Ball 3 point serving run resulted in Team USA taking the set 25-23. Team Spain had a better attacking percentage in the second set (.400 vs. .360) but trailed in the blocks and aces category.

The third set was an overtime seesaw match with neither team ever leading by more than two points. It was apparent that Team Spain’s second set heartbreaking loss was not impacting their spirit. Midway through the match, Coach McCutcheon substituted Sean Rooney for Riley Salmon. During the press conference Coach was asked about his strategy for the substitution commenting that while Salmon’s passing and defense was good his ability to side out wasn’t where we needed it to be. In the end both teams traded points from 21-21 to 25-25. The final two Team USA points were assisted by mistimed quick hits between Team Spain’s setter Hernan and middle Garcia-Torres. The first resulted into a Garcia-Torres hit into the net and the last resulted in a free ball setting up a Rooney back row attack for set and match point, 27-25.

Team USA is now 8-1 in Pool C with Bulgaria at 5-3. Bulgaria plays Finland on Saturday and Sunday. Team USA will meet Team Spain again Saturday night in Bloomington. Gabe Gardner’s injury was not expected to be serious but Coach McCutcheon was unsure if Gardner would participate in Saturday’s match.

Team USA Plays Jekyll and Hyde in Loss to Bulgaria

The following post is an article I posted on www.middlehitter.com originally on June 21, 2008. I posted it here on the blog as it has been moved to the website archives.

After being handily swept Friday night, Team Bulgaria defeated Team USA in a see-saw five set match Saturday night, 12-25, 25-16, 25-20, 12-25 and 15-13 in front of a crowd of 5,100 fans at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, IL. Team USA continued its dominance in the first and fourth sets with 25-12 victories in both. However, Team Bulgaria proved more resilient tonight as they took sets two, three and the deciding fifth set.

Coach Hugh McCutcheon changed the lineup as planned for the second match of this home series. Local favorite Sean Rooney and Riley Salmon played for Reid Priddy and Scott Touzinsky at the outside positions. Gabe Gardner replaced Clay Stanley at opposite, David Lee played middle for Tom Hoff and Kevin Hansen replaced Lloy Ball at setter. The only starters to return from Friday night were Ryan Millar and Rich Lambourne.

In the first set Sean Rooney hammered home a kill for side out. From there, Ryan Millar’s float serve took Team USA to a 5-0 lead. After a Bulgarian change of setters Teodor Aleksiev smashed a cross court kill with only one blocker up to finally get on the scoreboard. Team USA pushed ahead with scores of 12-3 and 19-9. Clay Stanley served out the last five points causing the Bulgarians to play out-of-system including one ace.

The second set awoke the Team Bulgaria blocking machine as they had 6 blocks versus none in the first set. The blocking caused Team USA to adjust their hitting resulting in their attack percentage dropping in half (.380). The Bulgarian serve receive also improved with to a .670 excellent reception allowing them to run their full offense. Bulgaria was up by scores of 8-4 and 16-9 as the match progressed. A Bulgarian 12 to 4 run stretched the lead. Danail Milushev finished the set with a roll shot ace serve.

Set three was close with each team trading 2 and 3 point runs. Boyan Yordanov stepped up for Team Bulgaria with 7 kills this set and a tough left handed serve that forced Team USA into a lot of out-of-system offensive play. Martin Penev also contributed four kills for Bulgaria during this set. Sean Rooney and Gabe Gardner kept Team USA close as USA lead at 17-16. Clay Stanley and Reid Priddy each had a chance to enter the match as a serving specialist in the third set but neither could get anything going. Bulgaria won the set 25-20 after a long rally.

Lloy Ball replaced Kevin Hansen for Team USA to start the fourth set. The change of setters resulted in an instant improvement in the hitting percentage (.500 vs. .320). Team USA blocking returned with David Lee and Ryan Millar each getting two blocks and a team total of 6 for the set. Clay Stanley and Reid Priddy each generated an ace in their serving specialist role. The US leads included 8-4, 15-6 and 20-7. At one point it appeared Team USA would hold Team Bulgaria to under 10 points when they held a 23-8 lead. Team Bulgaria battled back to 23-12 until Team USA won the set with a block of a Martin Penev pipe set.

The final set started out with a quick 3-0 push for Team USA behind David Lee’s float serve. A Sean Rooney cross court kill brought the score to 6-4 but Rooney was stuffed the very next two plays bringing Team Bulgaria to a 6-6 tie. The teams traded side outs including a controversial call on a joust that was called out of bounds against Bulgaria. Clay Stanley entered the set as a serving specialist at 11-11 but bombed the serve long. It looked like Team USA was on their way to a victory after Rooney and Salmon kills brought the score to 13-11 and forced a Bulgaria time out. A Salmon serve into the net and a Yordanov tool tied it up at 13-13. Bulgarian setter Andrey Zhekov was hit on the side of the face during a scramble for the ball but Yordanov makes a backset setting up the next kill. The match ends when Ryan Millar cuts a quick hit wide giving Team Bulgaria a 15-13 set and match win.

Sean Rooney lead Team USA with 15 kills, 4 blocks and 1 ace totaling 20 points. Boyan Yordanov lead Team Bulgaria with 19 points made up of 16 kills and 3 blocks. Team USA led Team Bulgaria in the blocks and aces department, 17 blocks versus 12 and 7 aces versus 1.

Team USA and Team Bulgaria both are 3-1 in World League Pool C competition. Team USA does lead in sets and points percentage. Team USA will return to Southern California to prepare for Finland next weekend in Green Bay, WI. Finland is 0-4 in Pool C with losses against the US and Spain. Team Bulgaria is flying directly to Spain to prepare for next weekend’s two matches. Spain is 2-2 in the competition dropping two to Bulgaria and winning both matches against Finland. Friday and Saturday’s matches in Hoffman Estates, IL were broadcast live to Bulgaria and will be shown tape delayed in the US on ESPNU.

Team USA Crushes Young Bulgarian Roster

The following post is an article I posted on www.middlehitter.com originally on June 20, 2008. I posted it here on the blog as it has been moved to the website archives.

Team USA defeated Team Bulgaria in three quick sets Friday night, 25-23, 25-16 and 25-16 in front of a crowd of 4, 450 fans. The starting rotation for Team USA was Hoff, Priddy and Ball across the front row with Stanley, Touzinsky and Millar across the back. Lambourne was the libero. Team Bulgaria started Gaydarski, Aleksiev, Zhekov across the front with Milushev, Ananiev and Tsvetanov across the back row with Salparov as Libero.

Bulgaria played even with USA in the first set including leading 17-15 at one point. While Bulgaria had a higher attacking percentage (.640 vs. .550) and out blocked (3 vs. 2) Team USA, the difference was Reid Priddy’s two service aces during a run that took the US from a 17-18 deficit to a 22-18 lead. That run seemed to take the energy out of the young Bulgarian team.

The second set was all USA as they pushed an early lead from 9-4 to 17-8 and 20-12 leads later in the set. Lloy Ball had three of his four match aces in this set changing the serves from a short roll to a well placed line serve. A couple of mental breakdowns occurred during the set for both teams. Tsvetan Sokolov had an easy USA serve receive over pass to put down but he stuffed it straight down on the Bulgarian side of the net. The very next play Team USA watched a bumped free ball land between them in the campfire coverage mode. Reid Priddy ended the set with a crushing cross shot.

The third set started out tighter with both teams trading points until 11-11. Danail Milushev, Bulgaria’s top scorer with 14 points blasted the 11th point on a tight set but appeared to strain his lower back while landing and ducking under the outside portion of the net. Next up was the Clayton Stanley serving show. Stanley took team USA from 12-11 to a 17-11 lead including 4 aces and one crushing serve resulting in an easy overpass kill for Ryan Millar. This removed the fight from the young Bulgarian team resulting in an easy 25-16 Team USA victory.

The next match will be Saturday night at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, IL.

Bulgaria: Preparing for the Olympics and the Future...

The following post is an article I posted on www.middlehitter.com originally on June 18, 2008. I posted it here on the blog as it has been moved to the website archives.

Bulgarian Coach Martin Stoev will mix his experienced and younger players throughout the 2008 World League competition. Bulgaria, who qualified for the 2008 Olympics with their Bronze medal finish during the 2007 World Cup competition, will rest their top players throughout most of World League. According to Coach Steov, “For the first 8 games of the World League I will give a break to the captain Plamen Konstantinov, the middle blocker Evgeni Ivanov and the opposite hitter Vlado Nikolov. After the first two matches against Spain in Varna I will let Matey Kaziysky go to a holiday.” The World League finals are being held July 23rd through the 27th in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This is just two weeks from the start of the Olympic competition (beginning August 9th).

Bulgaria had a strong showing in 2007, taking 5th place in the World League and winning the bronze medal in the World Cup. Bulgaria is currently ranked fourth in the World by FIVB, behind Brazil, Russia and the USA respectively. According to the FIVB team summary, “The year 2008 marks the 87th year since volleyball first arrived in Bulgaria. It all began in 1922 when, for a short time, Volleyball was hugely popular and became one of most practiced sports in Bulgaria… Bulgaria has more than 111 registered Volleyball clubs and over 5,500 Volleyball players from all age groups.”

Plamen Konstantinov (#17), Evgeni Ivanov (#1) and Vladimir Nikolov (#11) are the experienced veterans of the Bulgarian national team. Matey Kaziyski, who plays in the Italian Serie A with Trento Volley SPA, is considered one of the top outside hitters in the world. The 6'8" outside hitter is listed with a 12'2" spike touch. Captain Plamen Konstantinov the other outside wing spiker whose experience (over 400 caps) is very important for the team. Vladimir Nikolov, opposite, played on the Trento Volley SPA club with Kaziyski.

The World League rules require each national team to submit a roster of 19 players who can be used throughout the competition. During the preliminary inquiry, which usually occurs the day before the first match of the weekend, each team must submit their 12 player roster that will be used for that weekend’s two matches. The coach is limited to those 12 players during the two matches for that weekend. The 12 player roster can be changed from weekend to weekend as long as the 12 are from the original 19 list.

Coach Martin Stoev became head coach for Team Bulgaria in 2005. Coach Stoev started playing volleyball in 1984 and played over 200 matches for the Bulgarian National Team during the 1991 to 1999 time period. When Coach Stoev was asked about the competition in Pool C he responded: "This year our group for the World League is very tough and all the teams have their chances of winning. It is even more complicated since Bulgaria and USA are preparing for the Olympic tournament. We won the two matches against Spain in Varna, if we manage to take one victory on US ground this will give us a good base to attack the first place in the group." Stoev added, “If Bulgaria manages to qualify for the final six in Brasil we will go on that tournament with the younger players while the main team will be preparing for the Olympics.”

The World League began in 1990 with an 8 team format and has since grown to 16 teams. The Intercontinental round takes place over six weekends. The teams are split in four - 4 team pools and each team will play two matches against the same team (from their pool) on separate days over the same weekend (Friday, Saturday and/or Sunday). There are three weekends at home and three away resulting in a total of 12 matches for each team during this round.

Team USA will host Bulgaria during Week 2 (June 20th-21st) of the World League. USA will visit Bulgaria in final week (July 18th-19th) of regular competition. These matches, held in the Palace of Culture & Sports in Varna (Bulgaria’s third largest city) will most likely decide who will take first place in Pool C and advance to the Final Round of Six held in Brazil.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Finland: A very young team, but with big dreams...

The following post is an article I posted on www.middlehitter.com originally on June 9, 2008. I posted it here on the blog as it has been moved to the website archives.

Finland is currently ranked 22nd in the World by FIVB moving up from their previous ranking of 29th. Head Coach Mauro Berutto has big plans for the young team, “our target will be to make a wonderful experience, useful for our two next very important targets: European Championship finals (2009) and World Championship qualifications. We are a very young team, but with big dreams...”

The senior members of Team Finland are Mikko Esko (#3-Setter) and Olli Kunnari (#12-Outside Hitter) with 131 and 128 national team matches respectively. Esko plays for the Italian Serie A club team Antonveneta Padova. The Italian Serie A league has been long considered the top international league. Kunnari plays for AS Cannes in the French Pro A league. Middle Hitter recently watched Kunnari play in the 2008 French Cup semi-final match versus Beauvais in March (see photo). Matti Oivanen (#15-Middle Blocker), Konstantine Shumov (#14- Middle Blocker) and Anti Siltala (#5- Outside Hitter) have each had 50 or more national team matches since 2005. Team Finland has 4 players on their 19 man roster who are new to the national team and have no national team match playing experience.

The World League rules require each national team to submit a roster of 19 players who can be used throughout the competition. During the preliminary inquiry, which usually occurs the day before the first match of the weekend, each team must submit their 12 player roster that will be used for that weekend’s two matches. The coach is limited to those 12 players during the two matches for that weekend. The 12 player roster can be changed from weekend to weekend as long as the 12 are from the original 19 list.

Team Finland is 16 – 12 in match play since May of 2007 including a 4th place finish in the 2007 European Championships. Finland restarted its participation in World League in 2006 when FIVB expanded the number of teams from 12 to 16 (so did the US). Finland took 7th place in the World League on 2007 and 10th in 2006. USA is 9 – 2 versus Finland all time. The last time Finland and USA played was in 1984 when the US won 3-0. While the US has played in Finland 7 times in the past, this June (27th & 28th) will be the first time Finland has played in the US.The World League began in 1990 with an 8 team format and has since grown to 16 teams. The Intercontinental round takes place over six weekends. The teams are split in four - 4 team pools and each team will play two matches against the same team (from their pool) on separate days over the same weekend (Friday, Saturday and/or Sunday). There are three weekends at home and three away resulting in a total of 12 matches for each team during this round.

Coach Mauro Berutto is from Italy and was one of the assistant coaches during Italy’s 2004 Olympic silver medal performance. Coach Berutto was named the Team Sport Coach of the Year in Finland in 2007. Middle Hitter asked Coach Berutto how he thought the competition in this year’s World League Pool C would look. Here is what he had to say: “Our Pool will be really tough: Spain1, European Champion and fighting for Beijing, USA and Bulgaria, teams already qualified for the Olympics and with medal dreams. Difficult to define the toughest one, but I believe that the fight for the 1st place and for the tickets for the Brazilian final six will be decided with the last ball between USA and Bulgaria.”

Team USA will begin the World League with an away weekend against Finland. The matches will be held at LänsiAuto Arena in Espoo, Finland. LänsiAuto Arena, in Tapiola, opened in 1999 and holds 7,036 people. Its sponsor is Finland’s largest chain of fast food hamburger outlets and restaurants. Finland will play Team USA on June 27-28 at the Resch Center in Green Bay, WI.