Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bush's Blog Women's Preview; USA vs. China

by Phil Bush

Phil Bush, FIVB Broadcaster
Over the previous three decades, you'd be hard pressed to find someone in athletics with a greater level of expertise in volleyball production and promotion than Phil Bush.  He will be entering his fourth year working for the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) as a broadcaster on the FIVB “Match of the Week.”  He has also handled 17 seasons working for FSN South, ESPNU, CSS and Sun Sports providing both play-by-play and color analysis on volleyball broadcasts.  Through his MavRen Marketing & Productions company, Bush has worked in the production and promotion of volleyball events for over 25 years. 


                                                   


vs.



 Wednesday, 3PM ET

The USA women are now 2-0 in this very difficult Pool A, but if you look at the other pool you'll see EVERY match has been 3-1, except for the Brazil/Turkey match... and that went 3-2!  So, the USA being 2-0 means a lot more, given that this very experienced coaching staff likely saw that this was going to be a highly competitive pool and prepared their team for it.

Against Brazil, the team executed well for the most part, but there are still some areas they will continue to focus on.  China played the USA very close in the World Grand Prix earlier this year.  Both sides will have memories of this match, and this is where the experience of the USA will really come into play.   The USA did some great things against Brazil, holding them to just a .269 hitting efficiency.  Despite China and Brazil being two different styles of teams, those same strong points should continue.  

Keep watching the USA for:

- Continued offensive diversity: The middle blockers need to keep getting swings.  This will be very important against China on Wednesday!
- Higher sets: The sets can go higher, and I know I keep repeating myself, but in the middle.
- Focus on tougher serving: The servers have another gear, and it's time to break it out.  I'm not saying they have been serving easy, of course, just that they can keep dialing it up and against China now would be a good time to do so.
- Plan on the long rally showdown: What China loves to do more than most teams is extend long rallies.  The USA can play that game when they have to, and against China they will need to win those points where each team takes three-plus swings.  If China wins those first few long rally points...Team USA could be in trouble. 
- Shuffle the line-ups some more:  I believe that all 12 players are necessary in this situation when you are faced with continuous tight matches.  We will definitely need to see other reserves play a role against China.
- Continue letting the team, particularly the experienced players, run things on the floor.  

More about China:

China is a team that has been through some up and down times during the current quad, but in the last two years Coach Yu Juemin has the team playing much better, including a top-5 finish in the World Grand Prix earlier this year.   What separates the Chinese team from the other Olympic squads is their diversity.  In their first two matches, all of their offensive weapons have been used and used well.

China's key players to watch:  Wang Yimei

Wang Yimei
Wang Yimei broke onto the national team at the young age of 17, making her team debut back in 2005.  Just a few years later at the Beijing Olympic Games, she finished the tournament ranked second in scoring at the age of 20.  She appears to be fully healed from the ankle surgery she had earlier in the year, but it just takes one slightly awkward landing for an injury like that to crop up again.  It's certainly something to keep an eye on as the Olympics progress. 

One of the most formidable attackers in the world,  Wang certainly has the largest presence on the team despite their offensive diversity.  Recording 10 kills in her most recent match against Turkey, her vertical spike has been measured at over 10.5 feet and her block at 10.3 feet.  If China's going to defeat a confident USA squad, she will need to have a big match to draw the attention away from her teammates.

Hui Ruogi

Hui Ruogi
HUI Ruoqi would be one of those teammates. She is an all-around player that has a key role both on offense and defense.  In their 3-1 win over Turkey, Hui totaled 10 kills, six blogs and eight digs...so she can be a real thorn on the USA's side in multiple areas of the game.  Don't sleep on her when it's her turn to serve, she is tied for first in the Olympics with five service aces.  If she's running on all cylinders from behind the line, it could be a long day for Team USA.

Next Match:  USA vs. Serbia - August 3rd at 3:00 PM ET


Follow the AVCA and USA Volleyball on Facebook and Twitter (@AVCAvolleyball, @USA_Volleyball)!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Bush's Blog Men's Preview; USA vs. Germany


by Phil Bush

Phil Bush, FIVB Broadcaster
Over the previous three decades, you'd be hard pressed to find someone in athletics with a greater level of expertise in volleyball production and promotion than Phil Bush.  He will be entering his fourth year working for the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) as a broadcaster on the FIVB “Match of the Week.”  He has also handled 17 seasons working for FSN South, ESPNU, CSS and Sun Sports providing both play-by-play and color analysis on volleyball broadcasts.  Through his MavRen Marketing & Productions company, Bush has worked in the production and promotion of volleyball events for over 25 years. 


                                                   


vs.



 Tuesday, 11:45AM ET

The USA played very well in their opening match against a very good Serbia team.  Even when they got behind because of a run by Serbia, the team stayed to its game plan and ended up winning 3-0.  It was good to see the Americans struggle and not panic, sometimes it's important to remind themselves of the game plan and stay focused on it...even if you have to struggle a bit mid-match. 

Germany will pose another significant challenge, and with the Germans having won a marathon five-set match less than a month ago in Bulgaria in the World League Final, they will be confident of their ability to handle the pressure if the match gets into a fifth set.

Max Gunthor
In their pool opener having already lost 3-0 to Russia, they will be focused on the things they did well against the USA in World League.  The Germans lost the first set 31-29, and then seemed to really come apart in the second and third sets.  Watch for Gyorgy Grozer to come up big if the German’s want to stay with the Americans.  Max Gunthor in the middle could be difficult to handle as well.

On the American side, the Serbian match showed a team that is confident, and will keep running their system.  There will be times when they are challenged, but the USA showed their ability to come back and come back again.  World League was clearly a great learning experience for Team USA, and they have a chance to show that they have progressed one more step in their quest to repeat a s Olympic gold medalists.


                    Looking ahead to the key points to the match: 

-  Avoid and/or react to runs by the opponent: Much as they did against Serbia, the Americans need to stay with the plan, but when hit with any kind of a run by the Germans, make adjustments to stop it and get back on serve.
-  Focus on passing: It was good against the Serbs, but it can still get better against the Germans.  If Suxho can keep the middles in the game to prevent Germany from primarily focusing on the Anderson/Stanley – left/right combination, then things can go well for Team USA.
-  Remember the adjustments made during World League: Know the game plan needs to be followed and not to deviate unless Germany really surprises Team USA.
-   Serve Tough: The world knows that Stanley is the best server in the world.  The USA has room to get more points from others, and while it may not be jumpers, the USA showed at times against Serbia that strong serving can take a team all the way out of its offense. 


Gyorgy Grozer

     Germany's Player to Watch:  Gyorgy Grozer


     Taking after his father, who was a volleyball star in the 1980's and 1990's, Grozer is known as having one of the most vicious attacks in the world with an equally impressive repertoire of serves and blocks.  After suffering from an injury that kept him away from the team in 2011, the big opposite entered 2012 with something to prove and didn't disappoint.  Playing for his Polish club team Asseco Resovia Rzeeszow, not only did he win a championship, but was elected the MVP being the first foreign player to receive that award.  Soon after, he helped his German squad qualify for the Olympics by recording more than 60 combined points against Cuba and the Czech Republic.  



This is a huge match because it would make the USA 2-0 with momentum going into the murderers row of Brazil and Russia, which may be two of the hardest matches that a team has ever had in a single pool of the Olympics!


Next Match:  USA vs. Brazil - August 2nd at 3:00 PM ET


Follow the AVCA and USA Volleyball on Facebook and Twitter (@AVCAvolleyball, @USA_Volleyball)!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Bush's Blog Women's Preview; USA vs. Brazil


by Phil Bush

Phil Bush, FIVB Broadcaster
Over the previous three decades, you'd be hard pressed to find someone in athletics with a greater level of expertise in volleyball production and promotion than Phil Bush.  He will be entering his fourth year working for the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) as a broadcaster on the FIVB “Match of the Week.”  He has also handled 17 seasons working for FSN South, ESPNU, CSS and Sun Sports providing both play-by-play and color analysis on volleyball broadcasts.  Through his MavRen Marketing & Productions company, Bush has worked in the production and promotion of volleyball events for over 25 years. 


                                                   


vs.


Monday, 11:45 AM ET


The USA women won their first round match 3-1, and it was likely exactly what head coach Hugh McCutcheon wanted.  His world No. 1 team was challenged and challenged hard by the Koreans, particularly spectacular outside hitter Kim Yeon-Koung.  Kim may be the best outside hitter in the Games, and she absolutely showed it against the Americans.   This Korean team was much improved, and gave the U.S. a lot of issues to address.  

USA defeated Korea in four sets, courtesy FIVB
A lot of what the USA did went per plan, and that included Destinee Hooker (Texas) and Jordan Larson (Nebraska) being dominant outside, and all of the USA roster getting acclimated to Earls Court.  The acclimation introduced us to players who will have a major impact, like Christa Harmotto (Penn State), and the 1-2 punch of Tayyiba Haneef-Park (Long Beach State) and Courtney Thompson (Washington)...more on those two in a minute.

Speaking of tough matches, Brazil had to go all FIVE sets to beat Turkey!  Sheilla Castro led the way with Jaqueline Carvalho and Thaisa Menezes making major contributions.  At the end of the day, Brazil out-blocked and out-received Turkey to hang on for the win.  But they got a wakeup call as well!  It sets up a showdown of No. 1 and No. 2 in the world, plain and simple.  Given what we saw yesterday, the USA will need the following to move to 2-0 in the pool:

-    Stay focused on offensive diversity.  While Larson and Hooker are the go-to combination, continue to get the ball to Foluke Akinradewo (Stanford) and Christine Harmotto.  The more players get into the action, the more difficult it will be for Brazil to focus on any one part of the offense.


-   Continue to use the Thompson/Park Combination to address the right side blocking.  Park as a blocker is sensational and this combination will become familiar to the Americans.  Thompson to take over setting duties in this situation keeps the USA offense flowing.  Combination of substitutions will be most important when Castro is up front as she makes the Brazilian offense go.
-     Keep Hooker relaxed.  Remind her that each swing is not the end of the match, it’s just a swing. 
-   Increase serving pressure. I think the USA can get more out of their servers, and they may have intentionally not brought everything out on display in that first match.
-   Get Logan Tom (Stanford) swings in space.  She needs to get going offensively, and work the ball around the block.
-    Set the middles a little higher. I think both middles can take advantage of slightly higher sets against Brazil.  

Team Brazil's Player to Watch:  Sheilla Castro

Sheilla Castro
She is certainly no stranger to the grand Olympic stage, in Beijing she led her squad in Olympics scoring leading Brazil to the gold medal over Team USA.  Castro is an all-around opposite, but is mostly known for her spectacular striking that has netted her plenty of awards over her illustrious career.  In 2011, Castro led Brazil to the South American Championship and the Pan American Cup, earning MVP honors in both of those tournaments.  As I mentioned earlier, Brazil didn't breeze through Turkey like everyone expected, but Castro had a big match leading the team with 19 points.  


Next Match:  USA vs. China - August 1st at 3:00 PM ET

Follow the AVCA and USA Volleyball on Facebook and Twitter (@AVCAvolleyball, @USA_Volleyball)!  


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Bush's Blog Men's Preview; USA vs. Serbia

by Phil Bush

Phil Bush, FIVB Broadcaster
Over the previous three decades, you'd be hard pressed to find someone in athletics with a greater level of expertise in volleyball production and promotion than Phil Bush.  He will be entering his fourth year working for the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) as a broadcaster on the FIVB “Match of the Week.”  He has also handled 17 seasons working for FSN South, ESPNU, CSS and Sun Sports providing both play-by-play and color analysis on volleyball broadcasts.  Through his MavRen Marketing & Productions company, Bush has worked in the production and promotion of volleyball events for over 25 years. 


                                                   


vs.


                                      Sunday, 11:45AM ET

This match between Team USA and Serbia is anything but a foregone conclusion.  These two teams share similar world rankings (USA: 6, Serbia: 7), and are very evenly matched across the board.  USA needs to come out of the gate roaring in order to take out a team that is capable of beating anyone in the world when they get hot.

Anderson against Poland
Based on the World League results, you might say that the USA had an “up and down” performance.  However, the USA did show improvement as the very unusual World League schedule progressed.  I know the U.S. did not win the tournament, but a runner-up finish to a Poland group that showed mastery throughout World League was by no means a bad showing.  Poland has one of the finest coaches we have seen in Andrea AnastasiWe will talk about Poland when the time comes, but losing to them in the World League Final is nothing to be ashamed of.

On the other side of the net, since Serbia took home gold at the 2000 Olympic Games in Australia, they have been a perennial contender on the international stage.  There has been a lot of turnover since the beginning of the decade, but that hasn't slowed them down.  They took home bronze medals in 2010 at both the World League and World Championships before capturing the 2011 European Championships.   


The Serbian National Team

Team USA did square off against Serbia in last year's World Cup, but the Serbian squad was too much as they dominated the match 25-23, 25-17, 25-19.  How much stock you want to put in that is ultimately up to you, but I don't look at that match as a predictor of what's to come.  Why?  Because Reid Priddy and Clay Stanley didn't have significant playing time and Brian Thornton was setting.  Also, Serbia's best player in 2011, Ivan Miljković, is not on the Olympic roster after retiring from the national team earlier this year.  With the added firepower on the men's side, and Serbia without their leading weapon, look for a much more competitive match this time around.  

Two key players to watch for Serbia:

Marko Podrascanin
Marko Podrascanin started his career on the national team at the young age of 18, but over the next six years has proven to be an indispensable part of the team.  A member of the World League squad since 2007, he helped Serbia lock up two silver medals and one bronze while also being named the tournament's Best Blocker in 2008.  Podrascanin is one of the most talented middle blockers in the Olympics, and is also a key motivational member of the squad.

Janic Bojan is the most experienced member of Team Serbia with 229 matches under his belt.  In his 11 seasons with the national team, Bojan has accumulated four silver and three bronze medals.  He started as captain at the 2010 World Cup and again at the 2011 and 2012 editions.  

Team USA needs to focus on a few things coming out in a very tough opening match, in what could easily be called the "Pool of Death" across ANY sport in the Olympics!

  •  Come out with the energy that propelled Team USA to the World League Finals.  This is neither the time nor the place for slow starts.
  •   Know that Clayton Stanley and Matt Anderson need to come out with definitive play so they set the stage for later in the pool.
  •   Passing must be a strength of this team; the setters need to be able to run a very diverse offense attack.  Can Donald Suxho get the job done in the world's biggest stage?
  •   Adjust when things get tough: This Serbian team has played a ton of hard matches.  We could easily see a five-setter, and the USA will need to make rapid adjustments as the match goes on.  This was key in World League against teams like Italy and Cuba.
  •   Remember the adjustments made during World League - know that game plan needs to be followed and not to deviate unless Serbia really surprises Team USA.
  •   The bench needs to be big: I suspect we will see a number of players contribute in a number of ways.  It will be important that this is a true team effort.

To be in a pool with Russia and Brazil is clearly a challenge, but the USA is capable of playing at this level...if they stick to the game plan.  It make take some altering along the way, but this can be a memorable Olympics for Team USA!

Next Match:  USA vs. Germany - July 31st at 11:45AM ET


Stay tuned!


Remember to follow the AVCA and USA Volleyball on Facebook and Twitter (@AVCAvolleyball, @USA_Volleyball)!  

Friday, July 27, 2012

Bush's Blog Women's Preview; USA vs. Korea

by Phil Bush

Phil Bush, FIVB Broadcaster
Over the previous three decades, you'd be hard pressed to find someone in athletics with a greater level of expertise in volleyball production and promotion than Phil Bush.  He will be entering his fourth year working for the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) as a broadcaster on the FIVB “Match of the Week.”  He has also handled 17 seasons working for FSN South, ESPNU, CSS and Sun Sports providing both play-by-play and color analysis on volleyball broadcasts.  Through his MavRen Marketing & Productions company, Bush has worked in the production and promotion of volleyball events for over 25 years. 


                                                   


vs.


              Saturday, 3PM ET              


The Opening Ceremonies loom, but the USA Women will be focused on their first match against an opponent they are heavily favored in South Korea.  The problem is that when you are heavily favored, it can work against you. Your opponent has nothing to lose and if you come out even a little bit flat, things can start to go downhill quickly.  

Hugh McCutcheon
This has likely been taken into account by the very experienced USA coaching staff, but there will be moments where the line-up may change very quickly to keep giving the USA what I would call an “on-going” advantage.  The interesting make-up of Team USA will be fun to watch.  Hugh McCutcheon will not be afraid to mix things up often against Korea, particularly if any player for Team USA comes out even a little bit flat.  One of the strengths of this team is that it has a very deep bench, and anyone who thinks that Team USA is all about the starting lineup - just watch.  The coaching staff will keep moving things around so they accomplish several things at once:

-  Win and win convincingly.
-  Get many players acclimated to the Games – particular Destinee Hooker, who can play a deciding role in practically any rally.  I don’t think this will be difficult because both USA teams are accustomed to life on the road.
  -  Prevent other teams from focusing on any one combination of players – mixing the line-up is something that McCutcheon may do at seemingly strange times, but there is always a process and a purpose that leads toward the long term goal.
-  Set the stage for the upcoming back-to-back confrontations with Brazil and China.  Team USA will want to be confident and ready to take on the great teams of the world.  If you are a coach for the opposing team, the USA will be very difficult to define coming out of this first match.

Yeon-Koung Kim
For Korea, while they cannot match up physically with Team USA at the net, this is a team that will be something like a counter-puncher taking multiple shots looking to get one in.  The player where the majority of those shots will come from will be the 24 year-old young gun, Yeon-Koung Kim.  Kim was awarded the Best Attacker and Best Scorer award at the Asian Women's Championship a year ago, leading her team to a bronze with a victory over Thailand.  At last year's FIVB World Cup, Kim finished as the fifth-highest scorer and was MVP of Japan's V-League in 2011.  She continued her strong play this year with her Turkish Fenerbahce club of the CEV Champions League, finishing the season as their top scorer and MVP.

Sa-Nee Kim
Another player to watch will be captain Sa-Nee Kim.  A 13-year veteran of the national team, as both the captain and setter she directs the team on and off the court.  She will have an especially vital role to feed the aforementioned Yeon-Koung if they want to keep up with Team USA's firepower.  The 31 year-old has an impressive international resume  playing in the FIVB World Cup in 2007, two FIVB World Grand Champions Cups (2005, 2009), three FIVB World Championships (2002, 2006, 2010) and nine FIVB World Grand Prix.  Domestically, she plays her club volleyball for Korean Tobacco and Ginseng where she is reportedly the highest paid player in the Korean league.

While Korea may be out-gunned, they will look to extend rallies as long as possible.  Nothing will come easy against Team USA, but Korea has been known for long rallies and great defense for many, many years, and the Korean squad will want to come out and establish some momentum for the rest of the tourney.  Put more simply: even if you lose to the U.S., you look for small victories during the match and find a way to use that moving forward.

This is a match that will tell us a lot about the strategy of Team USA as the Olympics go on.  Look for the coaching staff to be true to their process, but if changes need be made on the fly, McCutcheon has shown he will do just that.

Next Match:  USA vs. Brazil - July 30th at 11:45AM ET


Stay tuned!


Remember to follow the AVCA and USA Volleyball on Facebook and Twitter (@AVCAvolleyball, @USA_Volleyball)!  

Thursday, July 26, 2012

So Long, Farewell...for now

Hey sports fans!  It is truly a sad day here at the AVCA, being that it is my last official day as an intern. Although I will not bequeath you any of my expert advice this week, I just wanted to take a minute to thank you for tuning in to my blog for the past couple months. Your feedback has been much appreciated and I hope you enjoyed reading my posts as much as I enjoyed writing them! I know you’re fighting back tears as you read this, but don’t be too sad.  I will start posting again once volleyball season starts in the fall, and that’s where all the action happens. So come August, be on the lookout for some new and exciting posts as Kentucky volleyball begins our 2012-2013 season! 
<3 Jessi

Fellow intern Brandon is going to be very lonely on intern row for the rest of the summer.


Bush's Blog; USA Men's Olympics Preview

by Phil Bush

Phil Bush, FIVB Broadcaster
Over the previous three decades, you'd be hard pressed to find someone in athletics with a greater level of expertise in volleyball production and promotion than Phil Bush.  He will be entering his fourth year working for the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) as a broadcaster on the FIVB “Match of the Week.”  He has also handled 17 seasons working for Fox SportsNet South, ESPNU, CSS and Sun Sports providing both play-by-play and color analysis on volleyball broadcasts.  Through his MavRen Marketing & Productions company, Bush has worked in the production and promotion of volleyball events for over 25 years, including the promotion of the first ever pro beach volleyball tournaments outside of California.  He will be writing a daily blog once the Olympics begin previewing the next day's matches for both the men and women.


Reid Priddy
The history of USA men’s international volleyball has been dominated by larger-than-life characters: Karch Kiraly (UCLA), Steve Timmons (USC) and Lloy Ball (IPFW).  These players had both staying power and moments of great success on the world stage, and two of the three also come from a different generation.

One of the questions that will be answered in this Olympic Games is will we be adding to the list?  Can Clay Stanley (Hawai'i) have the same impact in 2012 that he had in being named the MVP in Beijing in 2008?  Will Reid Priddy (Loyola Marymount) be added to the list of premier outside hitter/passers in the mold of Hall of Famers Kiraly, Aldis Berzins and Bob Ctvrtlik?  

By qualifying at the NORCECA Continental Championship in May in Long Beach, the U.S. men will be making their fourth consecutive appearance in the Olympics by virtue of the zonal championship. Their first podium finish of the quad in a major international competition came a month ago, when they finished second to Poland in the 2012 World League. Are the U.S. men following in the ‘picking-up-speed-going-into-the-Olympics model of 2008, where the U.S. squad won the World League, or was this runner-up performance a pleasant anomaly in what has otherwise been a difficult quad?  These are the lingering questions going into London.

Donald Suxho
Outside of NORCECA qualification and a strong World League finish, the similarities between the two teams are few.  Where the setting position was anchored by the 6’10” giant, Lloy Ball, for over a decade, the role has been a revolving door this quad.  Head coach Alan Knipe finally settled on Donald Suxho (USC), the backup to Ball in the 2004 Athens Games' fourth place finish.  Suxho is clearly capable in the role, but at times struggles with keeping his hitters in rhythm.  World League losses to No. 21-ranked France and a 14-16 fifth-game loss to Germany certainly foreshadow that this team has consistency issues. 

Certainly Suxho is not the lone culprit, as the U.S. men have been plagued repeatedly by passing problems.  Newcomer and world-class ball-striker Matt Anderson (Penn State) has had difficulties at times, and even veteran Reid Priddy has not provided the predictable delivery of the first ball that characterized his 2008 summer.

Rounding out the men’s roster is Rich Lambourne (BYU) in his second Olympics at libero; Sean Rooney (Pepperdine) and Paul Lotman (LBSU) will back up Priddy and Anderson on the outside; 2008 starter, David Lee (LBSU) returns to anchor the middle with Russell Holmes (BYU) likely in the other starting spot and David Smith (UC Irvine) providing backup. Brian Thornton (UC Irvine) will sub for Suxho if needed, and David McKienzie (LBSU) is the spare opposite. 


Brazil Head Coach Bernardo Rezende
The titillating aspect of the men’s Olympic draw is certainly the number of teams that could possibly win gold.  While the women’s field is likely only three deep – USA, Brazil, Russia – six teams could win on the men’s side.  Poland was playing the best a month ago with a decisive performance in the 2012 World League that featured two wins over No. 1 ranked Brazil.  Despite those recent losses and a 0-3 spanking by Cuba in a July 4th World League match, Brazil, under the leadership of legendary coach, Bernardo Rezende, is always a good wager for a podium finish having won the 2010 World Championship and finishing second and third in the 2011 World League and FIVB World Cup. 

The Russians have been the most consistent team of the last two years, notwithstanding their absence from the 2012 World League Finals.  Their decision to rest key players on the eve of the Games may be more of a nod to their confidence than reason for concern. Their gold medal performance in the 2011 World Cup and decisive first place finish in the same year’s World League make them worthy of their No. 2 ranking.

Serbia and the USA are the other two teams that could challenge for the gold medal.  As each has shown themselves capable of following a spectacular win with a sub-par performance against a less-capable opponent...their coaches will live with high anxiety the next two weeks.

USA Men's National Team

The story of this Olympic Games for the USA Men’s National Team will likely be written early as they begin on Sunday, July 29th against a dangerous Serbian team.  Match time is 11:45 a.m. ET.  Two days later, on July 31st, the USA men face Germany.  Both of these teams qualified late, are beatable by the U.S. crew, and are matches that will give us a good feel for the potential of our team.  Drop one or both and recover against numbers 1 and 2 ( Brazil and Russia, respectively) will be a herculean task.

Remember to follow the AVCA and USA Volleyball on Facebook and Twitter (@AVCAvolleyball, @USA_Volleyball)! 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Bush's Blog; USA Women's Olympics Preview

by Phil Bush

Phil Bush, FIVB Broadcaster
Over the previous three decades in athletics, you'd be hard pressed to find someone with a greater level of expertise in volleyball production and promotion than Phil Bush.  He will be entering his fourth year working for the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) as a broadcaster on the FIVB “Match of the Week.”  He has also handled 17 seasons working for Fox SportsNet South, ESPNU, CSS and Sun Sports providing both play-by-play and color analysis on volleyball broadcasts.  Through his MavRen Marketing & Productions company, Bush has worked in the production and promotion of volleyball events for over 25 years, including the promotion of the first ever pro beach volleyball tournaments outside of California.  He will be writing a daily blog once the Olympics begin previewing the next day's matches for both the men and women.


The USA Women’s National Team is capping off a remarkable four-year run that has included three Grand Prix Championships (2010, 2011, 2012), a fourth place finish in the 2010 World Championship, and a silver medal in the 2011 Women’s World Cup. 

Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon
When Hugh McCutcheon took over the women's team fresh after winning Olympic Gold for the men, he noted that the biggest difference between coaching the men’s and women’s squads was the depth of the player pool on the women’s side. He has leveraged that advantage masterfully over the past four years, providing more than 20 players with significant international match experience with most of them making their national team debut.

Though counting on rookies is generally a recipe for disaster at the international level, McCutcheon’s strategy worked to perfection.   By the summer of 2010, Stanford’s indomitable middle blocker Foluke Akinradewo and Penn State’s three-time AVCA  All-American Alisha Glass were winning MVP and Best Setter awards at the FIVB World Grand Prix. Later that fall at the World Championships, Nebraska outside hitter Jordan Larson and Texas phenom Destinee Hooker had worked their way into the starting line-up even though veterans Logan Tom (Stanford) and Stacy Sykora (Texas A&M) picked up the All-Tournament Team honors.   By the next summer, Hooker had established herself as one of the world’s elite opposites as she was named MVP of the 2011 Grand Prix and Best Spiker of the 2011 World Cup. 

Megan Hodge
The youth movement didn’t end there: Penn State’s Megan Hodge dominated the last two legs of the 2012 Grand Prix, and picked up not only the USA’s third consecutive title, but made herself the third USA international novice to take home MVP honors in the quad.  Not to be outdone by a former teammate, Penn State’s Christa Harmotto blocked her way into an Olympic roster position with a 1.31 blocks per set performance in the early rounds of the 2012 Grand Prix.    

The gutsy roster management was made possible by the fact that the team qualified for the London Games in the summer of 2011 at the World Cup.  This gave McCutcheon and his staff 12 months to tinker with combinations of skills and personalities, and to challenge those seeking a London roster spot to continuously improve.  Reducing the final roster to twelve, always a painful coaching task, must have been particularly challenging.  Left off the roster was three-time Olympian and 2008 starter Heather Bown (Hawai'i) and 2010 Grand Prix Best Setter Alisha Glass.

The chosen twelve are made up of two setters - presumed starter and 2008 Olympian, Lindsey Berg (Minnesota), and Courtney Thompson (Washington), two liberos – 2008 Olympian Nicole Davis (USC) and newcomer Tamari Miyashiro (Washington), three outside hitters – four-time Olympian, Logan Tom and newcomers Jordan Larson and Megan Hodge, two opposites, three-time Olympian Tayyiba Haneef-Park (Long Beach State) and newcomer, Destinee Hooker, and three middle blockers – five-time Olympian Danielle Scott-Arruda (Long Beach State), and newcomers, Foluke Akinradewo and Christa Harmotto.

Courtesy City of Anaheim/Matt Brown

The lineup contains some surprises that will be judged as brilliant if the result is the USA women’s first gold medal, and will be second-guessed in every volleyball coaching office in America if the result is something different.  The biggest gamble from an outsider’s perspective is the selection of Courtney Thompson (5’8”) as the backup setter to Lindsey Berg (5’8”).  While Thompson has shown an artful ability to enter matches where the US team is in trouble and change the momentum in positive fashion, this choice leaves Alisha Glass (6’0”) and Carli Lloyd (5’11”) watching the matches from Anaheim.  Though no sane volleyball coach picks a setter because she can block, it takes some guts to take two who can’t.  A gold medal with these two will go a long way to ending the ‘blocking vs. non-blocking’ setter debate . . . at least for now.

Other questions that will be examined in the next two weeks:

- Is Destinee Hooker ready for the biggest of all stages?
- Can Megan Hodge contribute if she is not a starter?
- If the kids implode, do the vets have the stamina to medal?
The answers start Saturday, July 28 at 3 p.m. ET with USA v. Korea.

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