By Kathy DeBoer
I don’t know how many of you are following our women’s national team in the FIVB World Championships, but if you are not, you need to start. The team currently sits at 5-0 after the first round of pool play and is riding a remarkable wave of success in major international competitions.
As you may or may not know, the transition from college to international play is a much bigger jump than the move from high school/club to college. The game is much faster and, with only six substitutions, there is no front court/back court platooning available to mitigate a player’s weaknesses in particular skills. Most collegians take 3-5 years to become effective players internationally, no matter how good they were in college. Further, all the important international competitions are played overseas, relegating our national teams to an ‘out-of-sight/out-of-mind’ space in our volleyball consciousness, and adding the transition from collegiate stardom to stateside obscurity to the challenges of national team life.
Given all those facts, this team is winning anyway. In August, they won, yes, won the FIVB World Grand Prix - a four-week, four-country marathon where the jetlag alone will cripple the uninitiated. This feat has only been accomplished twice before by a US team, but both the 1995 and 2001 teams were full of players with enough frequent flyer miles to never pay for a ticket again.
Stat this on the current roster: Four starters have been out of college less than two years: Setter Alisha Glass and Opposite Destinee Hooker competed against each other for the NCAA DI National Championship less than a year ago in Tampa, Florida; Middle 1, Foluke Akinradewo and Outside 2, Jordan Larson both represented their college teams in the NCAA National Championship in Omaha, Nebraska in December of 2008. To say that their rise to prominence on the international scene has been meteoric is a colossal understatement. Add that the primary subs at outside hitter - you know, the toughest-on-the-planet job of entering a match when the team is in trouble and providing a lift – are Cynthia Barboza and Megan Hodge, another pair of international fledglings, and you have an accomplishment that defies hyperbole.
Certainly, there have been other players who have transitioned quickly from college to national team contributors – Logan Tom’s jump, as an underclassman, from Stanford to a starter in the 2000 Sydney Olympics comes to mind. And clearly, credit for this team’s success extends beyond the rookies; that same Logan Tom, today a seasoned veteran, is performing superbly at O1; Libero, Stacy Sykora and Middle 2 Heather Bown is clocking in consistent, workmanlike, matches. And who can ignore that Gold Medal-carrying, head coach, Hugh McCutcheon, as much as promised international success for our women when he took the job in December of 2008. He has moved at warp speed in fulfilling the high expectations he set for himself.
Yet, having said all that, ‘experience’ is not an ascribed trait, but an achieved one; you cannot give it to your players, they must experience it, and this team is winning without much of it on the floor.
So, let me end where I began: if you are not watching this team, you need to start. Their next match is Saturday, November 6. You can set up RSS feed to get match notes and results or you can subscribe to their free e-mail subscription.
You know the names; you won’t believe the stats; and you don’t want to miss this remarkable debutante ball!