One of the advantages of flying all over the world during the summer months is it gives me time to write some blog posts. We are currently returning from Chicago after a successful 6-0 start in this year’s World League competition.
Our first weekend was in Varna, Bulgaria. Varna is a small town on the Black Sea. Upon arrival we went down to the beach for a quick jog; we like to do some type of light activity after long flights. The next day was interesting. This was the first time our complete team had played together since November. We had three days to pull it together J
The arena we played in had 6,000 cloth seats that must have been at least 40 years old. When you combine zero airflow with the smell of cigarettes, sweat, and 40 year-old cloth seats you get, well, you get the picture.
The place was packed and loud on night one. Bulgaria came out bombing their serve. It wasn’t long before we were down 0-2 and on the brink of getting swept. In the third set we were able to fight off three match points and win the set. The serve/receive battle was changing. Bulgaria started missing serves, which allowed us to slowly get our mojo going. USA ended up making a huge comeback, and won in five to get our world league off to an exciting start.
On night two the place was once again packed. Set one was a repeat of the first night. Bulgaria was fired up and bombing their jump serves. They took the first set. However, the serve/receive battle changed again and our guys slowly took control. USA wins 3-1 and goes to 2-0.
The flight home was long. We had to fly from Varno to Sofia, Sofia to Istanbul, then Istanbul back to LAX. Luckily that next weekend was our bye week, which allowed us some time to work with our team.
Next up is Russia. As many of you know, Russia has been the best team in the world for several years now. The good news is we got to play them at home at the Pyramid in Long Beach, California.
Night one was strange. The energy in the arena was low on both sides of the net. However, our guys came out and took the first two sets from Russia. Russia made some subs and started building some mojo in set three. Long story short, we ended up in a battle, and eventually won the match in five.
Night two was amazing. When we pulled up to the Pyramid there were 600 loud fans that greeted us in the parking lot. This is a unique experience in the United States and one that our guys greatly appreciated. Furthermore, the Pyramid was packed and full of energy. After a sloppy performance on Friday night, our guys were ready to go. USA swept Russia and moved to 4-0 in World League play.
Next up was Serbia in Chicago. Going into these matches both teams were undefeated with 10 points each. Both Serbia and the USA are young and talented.
On Friday night we were behind most of the first set. However, we stayed close enough to make a push towards the end of the set. USA Middle Blocker David Lee had a timely commit block to tie the match. USA ended up winning a hard fought first set 30-28. From that point on our guys passed unbelievably which allowed us to get in to a nice side-out rhythm. We also kept our serving errors to 14%, which is progress for our team. USA swept Serbia 3-0 and took sole possession of first place in our pool.
On Saturday night we knew things would be different. Serbia is just too good to expect anything less than a long, tough match. The first set was a classic side-out battle. Once again, our guys were able to make a late push to take the first set. In set two we had some nice serving runs that allowed us to go up 2-0. In the beginning of set three you could feel the change coming. Serbia was fired up, as were their fans. They went up 16-12 in the third but USA came storming back late in the set. We tied things up at 24-24 but came up short. Matt Fuerbringer and I looked at each other on the bench and said, “Let the fun begin.” We knew the battle we expected was now very much in play. Serbia takes set four and away we go in to our third fifth set match of World League.
We started off the fifth set with some big time defensive plays. However, Serbia made some plays of their own. We switched sides being up 8-7. After the switch we made a few more defensive plays to build a 3-point lead. At 14-12 we missed a match point serve making the score 14-13. We had to side-out one time for the match. We set Max Holt in front of three blockers. Their middle committed and both wings were there to help. It was a strange play that we were lucky to execute on. Max killed the ball and the USA stayed undefeated.
These are the types of experiences that allow our team to grow. We still have so much to improve upon, however, it’s great to know that we can get some wins while not playing perfect volleyball. This team can be special. It’s a great group of guys who understand what it means to be a team.
We are back in Chicago this coming weekend against Bulgaria. We are currently first in our pool with 15 points. Serbia is second, Russia third and Bulgaria fourth. The top two teams in the pool advance to the World League finals in Florence Italy.
There’s a lot of volleyball to go. Regardless of what happens next weekend we will need to find points on the road vs. Russia and Serbia.
I will report back soon, and Go USA!
Assistant Coach – Men’s National Team