Tuesday, June 21, 2011

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.

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