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.