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.