Wednesday, September 03, 2008

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.

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