Monday, June 25, 2007

USA Completes Sweep of Hobbled Italian Team, 3-0

I am capturing this article in my blog since I will eventually be moving the article off of the home page.

The US National Team completed their home sweep of the Italians in World League play Saturday evening in front of 3,720 fans in Chicago. The scores were 25-19, 30-28 and 25-23. The Asics Junior National Championship tournament also being held in Chicago provided an additional source of fans from both local and out-of-town junior players and their parents. Pockets of junior players could be seen throughout the crowd, some still in their team uniform shirts.

The Team USA starting rotation included three different players tonight compared to their starting rotation on Friday night’s match. Kevin Hansen, who saw action in the 4th set Friday night, was the starting setter Saturday. Tom Hoff, who occasionally subbed into Fridays match in a blocking role for a few plays, was one of the starting middles. Hoff replaced David Lee. Lastly, Clay Stanley who was only used as a serving specialist Friday night was the starting opposite, replacing Gabe Gardner.

On the Italian side, Alessandro Farina, the Italian starting libero Friday night, was unable to play Saturday night. Prior to the match, Farina felt disoriented and nearly passed out. There was no prognosis on his condition at the post-match press conference. In his place, Alessandro Paparoni became the starting libero. This impacted the Italian offensive power Saturday night as Paparoni was a key attacker with 14 kills on Friday night.

The first set was close for the first ten points with the last tie score being at 6-6. Clay Stanley and Reid Priddy kills began to stretch out the lead to a 3 or 4 point spread. Team USA put together a run of points resulting in an Italian time out with the score 20-17. Reid Priddy put together back-to-back aces moving the score to 22-17. The first ace was shanked while the second one hit the floor untouched between two players. Coach Montali performed a double sub with Matteo Martino replacing Alberto Cisolla and Mauro Gavutto replacing Lorenzo Perazzolo. Priddy’s next serve resulted in an out-of-system free ball back to the US side and a Riley Salmon kill, 23-17. Tom Hoff ended the set with a quick, 25-19. Statistically, the US hit .380 and Italy .180. Both teams had only two serving errors with the US getting one ace. Clay Stanley had seven kills with a .550 hitting percentage.

The second set was the best set of the match. After the US jumped to a 3-0 lead, the next several minutes of play resulted in side outs or two point runs. Italy tied the set at 16-16 when Priddy was called on a back-row attack while attempting a roll show on an out-of-system set. For the next couple of rally’s both team seemed to lose focus as they were standing around letting balls go unpursued and resulting in a several free balls back to each other. The score was tied again when Kevin Hansen attempted to bring an overpass serve receive back over the net and was called for a lift, 21-21. Coach McCutcheon called a time out just before the up official signaled for serve. After a Millar kill, Giordano Mattera surprised the US with a dump with no US blockers up, 22-22. Italy had the first three attempts at set point, 23-24, 24-25 and 25-26. An Italian mental mistake resulted in a 26-26 score when after making a good dig on a Hoff quick attack, they let the dig drop to the floor within a few feet of several players. Clay Stanley put the match away with back-to-back kills, 30-28. The US maintained its .550 hitting percentage while Italy improved to .350. The US had a cumulative 2 aces to 8 service errors and Italy had a total of 5 service errors with no aces. USA had 5 blocks and 12 digs. Team Italy has 2 blocks and 5 digs. Another notable difference was 10 Italian ball handling errors versus 5 for the US. Clay Stanley had 10 kills in the second set.

David Lee started for Ryan Millar in the third set. Christian Savani and Cisolla kept Italy in the match with their timely kills. After the technical time out, Kevin Hansen would not be given the serve signal until he realized the up official was asking him to tuck in his shirt tail. Once he complied his was signaled for serve. Cisolla’s strong play, assisted by an Andrea Sala block resulted in Italy taking a 13-10 lead. The US charged back and tied the score at 15-15 with two Riley Salmon aces. After being tied at 17-17 and 19-19, the US blocked Cisolla twice resulting in a 21-19 lead and an Italian time out. After exchanging points, a missed serve by both teams resulted in a 24-23 score. Riley Salmon’s roll serve ended up with Tom Hoff stuff blocking Savani for match point. Cumulative stats for the US: .440 hitting, 4 aces to 10 service errors, 14 digs and 10 blocks. Stats for Italy: .330 hitting, 0 aces to 8 service errors, 9 digs and 4 blocks.

In the post-match press conference, Captain Tom Hoff was asked about the significant improvement in service errors compared to Friday night. It was noted that many of tonight’s serves were more of a role shot versus a full hard swing. Hoff said that the team discussed their Friday night service errors and agreed to focus on improving Saturday night. That focus resulted in a reduction of 7 errors (10 down from 17) with six of them coming in the second set. Coach McCutcheon stated the general instruction is to swing away if they have a great toss but they should control their serves with a point of getting them in if the toss is not ideal. They believed their block could protect them if their half speed serves were in bounds.

I will share more of the non-match related press conference notes in a separate article.

Friday, June 22, 2007

USA Looks Strong Against Young Italian Team During FIVB World League Chicago Opener

I am capturing this article in my blog since I will eventually be moving the article off of the home page.

USA Volleyball has strongly encouraged me to write an article about my coverage of the match. For what it is worth, here is my first ever match coverage…

Tonight’s match was held at the Emil and Patricia Jones Convocation Center at Chicago State University. The USA vs. Italy World League match was the first sporting event to be held in the brand new center. It has only been open for about a month and the only other use was for Chicago State’s recent graduation ceremony. The facility was beautiful and allowed one whole side of the court to be within feet of the action.

The first two sets ended in the same score 25-21 USA. In the first set, it was 8-6 at the first time out. Reid Priddy delivered back-to-back aces to stretch the lead. The US maintained a steady 4 to 6 point lead throughout the rest of the match. Clay Stanley subbed in as a serving specialist at the 17-12 mark but no fireworks were generated. Statistics wise, both teams had 5 service errors but the US had two aces to none for Italy. Star player, Alberto Cisolla had three of those 5 service errors in this first set. The US hit a blistering .640 compared to a respectable .460 for Italy.

The second set was fairly tight until the 16-16 point. A Gardner high hands kill was followed by a Millar block resulting from bringing down an Italian roll shot using his high hang time. This generated energy for the US as they widened the lead and maintained it for the rest of the set. Tom Hoff was subbed in for Brandon Taliaferro while the US was serving. This paid off with a Hoff-Lee stuff block the very next play. The set ended with a Priddy tool shot. Once again both teams had the same number of service errors (10 each). The difference was USA having four aces to go with their service errors. Italy had no aces.

The third set started out strong for the US with a 2-0 and 6-3 lead. During the second point of the set, the up official called a replay during the middle of the action. He had seen Alberto Cisolla take a knee to the head during a scramble for a deflected ball. The US was surprised that the official had stopped action before the completion of the point but dropped any protest. Gabe Gardner responded with an ace during the replay. I guess the old saying, “the ball never lies” worked out for the US this time. Alberto Cisolla and Allesandro Paparoni started getting hot for Italy and the digging and blocking was significantly better than the last two sets. Italy had 10 digs in the third set alone. Late in the set, the US block started to dominate bringing the US back to a 21-21 tie. Each team sided out until Italy finished off the set with a hard kill ricocheting off a US back row player. Sean Rooney, the local favorite, was subbed into the match in a blocking role for one play. Riley Salmon was quickly subbed back in during the next rotation. Italy had 15 kills and the previously mentioned 10 digs. However, they still had 0 aces to their now 15 service errors. The US had 14 kills and added a fifth ace to their 15 service errors.

In the final set, Italy jumped to a lead including an 8-13 lead during a streak of serve-receive problems for the US. Kevin Hansen was subbed in at setter at the 5-7 mark. As with the last set, the Italian digging and blocking had improved. The US tied up at 15-15 once again using back-to-back stuff blocks. It was here I noticed that Italy was using a short server whenever Reid Priddy was in the back row. When I asked Coach Montali about the short serve, he said it was intentional. It impacted the ability of Priddy to get ready for his back-row attack and allowed the Italian middle to read their blocking assignments. Clay Stanley was brought in as the serving specialist once again and delivered two aces tying the setup at 19-19. Alberto Cisolla and Allesandro Paparoni contributed kills but the US fought back to a 24-24 tie with a quick attach by David Lee and a Salmon kill. The US jumped ahead 25-24 but a Priddy service error tied it up again. It was Priddy throughout the last few plays. He was called for over the net when he contacted a ball being set by the Italian setter but delivered two back-to-back kills to make up for it. The final score was 29-27.

During the post-match press conference, Coach Montali mentioned that he has four players currently not traveling due to injuries. As a result he had several younger players on the roster and starting. Coach believed this contributed to their slow start as the players were getting adjusted to playing with their teammates and against the tough US competition. When Coach was asked whether Pool B was the toughest World League pool this year, he smiled and agreed that it was.

Coach McCutcheon opened the US press conference by stating that a win over Italy is always a good win. Coach McCutcheon also indicated that he thought Pool B was the toughest World League Pool this year but did not speculate whether the 2nd place team from Pool B was most likely to receive the Wild Card position to advance to the final round. It was his experience that the wild card was just that, a wild card and there seemed to be no consistent rationale behind the selection. Tom Huff stated that during the third set, the Italian hitting and digging had improved but the US should have been prepared for that. It took them awhile to adjust not getting the kills that had during the first two sets. Lastly, Sean Rooney was asked about his old high school who had recently won their fourth Illinois state boy’s volleyball championship. Sean was a senior in high school when Wheaton-Warrenville South won their first. Sean said he knew of their victory and recently spoke with his old high school coach.

OK, that is enough for my first ever sports story…. Please feel free to provide me any feedback.

Middle Hitter

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