Wednesday, September 03, 2008

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.

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