Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Got the Second Match Figured Out

Team USA defeated Team Poland three sets to one tonight in their second match of the two match home country World League series. The scores were 25-21, 15-25, 25-18 and 25-22. Matt Anderson stepped up and led Team USA with a 20 point performance made up of 16 kills, 1 ace and 3 blocks.

Team USA now has a solid second place standing in Pool A with Brazil leading the pack, Poland in 3rd and Puerto Rico in last place. The match was played in front of a packed house of 6,000 fans at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, IL. Team USA has won the second match after losing the first match in three out of their four World League weekend series so far including delivering world leader Brazil their first loss this past Sunday while playing away in Brazil.

As with Friday night, the Polish fans packed the house. The Team USA fans, while outnumbered, did a lot more respectable effort in supporting their team including chants and jeers (Bartman, Bartman, etc…) of their own. This volleyball crowd sounded like a Bulls NBA playoff match crowd and seemed to have a lot of fun.

Coach Knipe started the same six guys he began for the 3rd set on Friday night. David Lee, Reid Priddy and Brian Thornton were in the front row and Clay Stanley, Matt Anderson and Russell Holmes in the back. Matt Anderson delivered his first of 16 kills with a back row attack for the first point of the match. Team Poland continued to pressure Anderson in the passing department as they targeted their serves in his direction. The Polish fans attempted all night to rattle Team USA servers with their shrill whistles but almost all of the Team USA players have played in Central European Volleyball (CEV) leagues and are quite comfortable with the noisy atmosphere. Reid Priddy delivered a four point serving run in the middle of the set including an ace which brought Team USA to a 14-9 lead. Team USA maintained the 4 to 5 point lead throughout the set. Matt Anderson delivered another ace serve at the 18-14 mark. A David Lee combo quick attack in the middle ended the set. The other attacker in that combo was Reid Priddy who landed into Lee and appeared to hurt his knee. Team USA hit a dismal .290 but had six blocks. Team Poland hit .370 with 4 blocks. Service errors also contributed to Poland’s set loss. Ryan Millar entered as a blocking specialist for one point and Paul Lotman continued in his serving specialist role.

Friday deja vu seemed to set in for Team USA in the second set. A combination of getting stuffed, hitting errors and miscommunications resulted in a quick 7 to 1 lead for Team Poland. Zbigniew Bartman, opposite, continued the pressure with six crushing kills which brought him to a total of ten after just two sets. A three point run finished off Team USA as Team Poland won 25 to 15. Team USA sank to a .270 hitting percentage and delivered only one more block. Team Poland jumped to .580 hitting percentage with 2 blocks. Matt Anderson was shut out in the points department.

The first play of the third set looked like Team USA was going to struggle again including Reid Priddy having to tip two back row quick attacks due to set placement but Clay Stanley finally nailed a line shot for the first point. Team Poland errors contributed to a 3 point run for Team USA and lead to an 8-5 lead for USA at the first technical time out. Reid Priddy came out of the time out and immediately supplied another ace serve. Team USA stretched the lead to 20-10 with a blocking clinic and Poland hitting errors. A Matt Anderson tool off high hands resulted in his seventh kill of the set and a Team USA 25-18 win. In addition to his 7 kills in the set Anderson added an ace and a block kill. Team USA doubled their hitting percentage to .640 adding a block and an ace. Team Poland dropped back to .370 hitting with no blocks.

The fourth set of the night was a bit of a come from behind for Team USA. After a brief 3-2 lead Team USA fell behind by up to five points during the middle of the set. Reid Priddy seemed to struggle getting both blocked and committing hitting errors. Team USA finally tied it up at 15-15 when Poland couldn’t return a Stanley serve even after three touches. Poland setter, Krzystof Ignaczak tied the set for the final time with a setter dump kill. Two Poland hitting errors, a double contact called on Ignaczak and an Anderson kill resulted in a quick 23-19 lead for Team USA. Team USA held on to a 25-22 set win and a 3-1 match win when Michal Ruciak hit wide. This set was a statistical anomaly as Team Poland hit .520 and had five blocks compared to Team USA hitting .370 with one block. Even Coach Andrea Anastasi confessed at the Press Conference he couldn’t figure out what happened based on looking at the statistics.

Team USA will travel to Tulsa, OK to play Brazil on June 24th and 25th. Team USA needs to win both matches for any chance to make it to the World League final round being held in Gdansk-Sopot, Poland. Team Poland gets an automatic berth into the final round as the host country. Coach Alan Knipe commented during the press conference that he learned a lesson this week and will taper this week’s training regimen in an attempt to prevent a repeat in the poor first match Team USA performance.

Surprised and Not Surprised

As expected, it seemed that 4,000 of the 4,700 spectators at tonight’s first World League match in the US were for Team Polska. The volleyball savvy and proud Polish fans brought the wonderful experience of attending a European volleyball match right to the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, IL. The cheers, the songs, the whistles (versus booing) and the loudest singing of a national anthem I have heard at a volleyball match. This is no surprise for the international volleyball fan.

The surprise of the night was the play of Team USA. It was as if a group of very talented players met at an open gym for the first time. A few great individual plays and efforts were quickly lost by a lack of cohesiveness, consistency and even communications. Was this the same team that beat Brazil, number one in the world rankings, just five days ago?

Coach Alan Knipe started Matt Anderson, Clay Stanley, and David Lee across the front row. Ryan Millar, Brian Thornton and Reid Priddy were in the back row. Rich Lambourne was the Libero for all three sets. A Stanley tool kill from the left side brought the teams to the first technical time out at 8-7 USA. Both teams traded points with Team USA reaching their last lead of the game at 12-11 when Team Poland was called in the net. The Polish fans made their displeasure with the call known with the shrill European whistle. The call seemed to ignite Team Poland as they ripped five straight points in a row. The last Team USA push was started by an Anderson line shot kill followed by two straight aces by Clay Stanley. The first set closed out with a Stanley hitting wide on a line shot resulting in a 22-25 loss for Team USA. Team USA hit .310 with 2 blocks. Team Poland hit .570 with 4 blocks.

Coach Knipe kept the same lineup and rotation for the start of the second set. Team USA had a brief lead at 3-2 when the Polish setter Lukasz Zygadlo was called over the net trying to bring an overpass back. Four hitting errors and a Bartosz Kurek ace quickly brought Team Poland to an 8-3 lead at the first technical time out. The only highlights for the rest of the set were an ace for Reid Priddy and another one for Stanley. The rest of the set was marred with missed connections, sloppy passing and a lot of free balls being sent over to the Team Poland side of the net. As in the first set, Scott Touzinsky was a serving sub for Ryan Millar and Paul Lotman for David Lee. Team USA improved their hitting to .400 pace and added another block. Team Poland also improved to .580 with another 4 blocks totaling 8 after the first two sets.

The third set brought both a substitute at the middle position and a slightly different rotation to try to find a solution to their performance problems. Russell Holmes was brought in for Ryan Millar and Coach Knipe started Stanly, Lee and Priddy across the front with Anderson, Homes and Thornton across the back. Team USA seemed to have a little more energy and success in the beginning of the set settling in to an 8-6 lead at the first technical timeout. Team Poland responded after the TTO with three straight points including some poor play by Team USA. Team USA was able to battle back to a 10-10 tie after Clay Stanley crushed a line shot. The wheels on the bus fell off after that including a play where Clay Stanley and Rich Lambourne watched a shanked serve receive pass bounce between them two feet apart. One highlight of the third set was Paul Lotman subbing in for Matt Anderson at the 10-12 mark. Lotman was able to quickly put down 4 kills before the end of the match. Donald Suxho was brought in for Thornton after a Reid Priddy back row quick attack went long bringing the score to 11-16. A Paul Lotman roll shot service error (bad toss) to give the set 25-20 and match 3-0 to an excited Team Poland pretty much summed up Team USA’s performance for the night.

During the post-match press conference both Coach Knipe and Captain Reid Priddy expressed that the team had struggled during practice all week and tonight’s match was just a continuation of their practice performance.

Team USA will play Team Poland once again Saturday night at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, IL. The USA fans will be hoping for a repeat performance of Team USA’s away matches against both Poland and Brazil. Team USA won the second match of the two match series while playing in Poland and Brazil respectively. Coach Knipe commented that he hoped more Team USA fans would be in the stands for Saturday’s match. I am still expecting to see a lot of red and white in the stands.