Friday, August 31, 2012

'Tis The Season

by Jessi Greenberg

Hello there loyal followers! I hope you’ve missed me as much as I’ve missed you. I apologize for my absence lately, but I’ve been a little busy to say the least. You see, it’s everyone’s favorite time of year again. No, I don’t mean Christmas. I’m talking about VOLLEYBALL SEASON!

Picture Day: One of the highlights of preseason.
A couple weeks ago began the start of preseason.   Although some people may cringe at the idea of two-a-days and two weeks of nothing but volleyball practice, I relished in the daily soreness and five pounds of sweat I lost each day playing in that oven we call Memorial Coliseum. Each day that we got closer to the season opener, the more excited our team got.  

Now, as if I wasn’t busy enough, we also started school this month. Once again, the thought of school might make some people’s stomachs churn, but of course being my nerdy self, I was looking forward to it. Now that we are in the midst of the season and school, my schedule can tend to look a tad overwhelming. So in order to power through those long nights and early mornings, I’ve found some techniques that help me stay focused on my studies, and kicking butt on the volleyball court.

How to Not Go Absolutely Insane During Volleyball Season:

1. Be Organized: If you don’t have a planner, go get one. Or use the calendar on your oh-so-smart phone, but personally I like to write things down by hand. Whether you’re a coach or a player, your schedule is going to be crazy during the season, and it’s important to have all your activities written down in one place.

2.  Fuel Your Body: One of the biggest differences between being in season and being out of season, is that you are going to be in the gym for around three hours a day, six days a week. That much activity means you are going to burn a lot of calories. No that DOESN’T mean you can eat cake for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It is crucial that you fill your body with the energy it needs to keep you going throughout the day. That means you need to get your lean proteins, your fruits and veggies, and enough carbs to help you get through practices and games.

3. Plan Ahead: Remember that planner you bought? Use it. You are going to be traveling a lot, and that can make schoolwork seem a little stressful. Whenever possible, try to complete assignments at the beginning of the week, instead of one hour before they’re due.

4. Balance: Our schedules are hectic, and there’s no way around that. Therefore, you can’t stay up until 2am every night, and you definitely won’t be sleeping in until 11 every morning. Be smart about your social life, and make sure you are getting to bed at a reasonable hour so you can perform at your highest level everyday. Trust me, your coach and teammates will appreciate the effort you’re making.

5. Get Some TLC: You’re going to have some great days, and you’re going to have some days that make you want to curl up in the fetal position under your covers and never get out. My advice is to find something that’ll help de-stress you at the end of the day.  Personally, I find that drinking tea, eating a piece of chocolate, and laughing with my ridiculous roommates always leaves me going to bed with a smile on my face. Find your happy place.

Now, that's what excitement looks like.

Now that you have a few basic tips on surviving the volleyball season, I hope you’re as excited as I am for the next four months of action. And if you think you’re excited, I’ve included some pictures of what real excitement looks like...Kentucky volleyball style.

I'm guessing we won that point. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Look Ahead - Aug. 27-Sept. 2

by Jen Armson-Dyer

If Week One of women’s Division I volleyball is any indication of the level of excitement and unexpectedness, then we’re in for another great season. The great Nebraska/UCLA five-gamer, Dayton taking out Illinois, Pepperdine and Ohio and going from unranked to 11th in the latest poll, and a fair amount of teams still trying to figure out the right combination of talent and chemistry and taking some hits early on. Read on to see some matches to watch this week:

Nike Big Four Classic
The biggest tournament of the weekend will be the Nike Big Four Classic, hosted by Penn State at Rec Hall in University Park, Pa. on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 as No. 2 Texas, No. 4  Penn State, No. 9 Stanford and No. 18 Florida square off in a battle of powerhouse programs. The Longhorns and Gators will open play on Friday at 4:30 p.m. ET with the Nittany Lions and Cardinal following live on the Big Ten Network at 8:00 p.m. ET. Saturday will feature Florida and Stanford at 4:00 p.m. ET, with Penn State and Texas matching up in the nightcap. All matches will feature Gametracker.

Haley Eckerman is the top offensive producer for the Longhorns, as she led the squad to three sweeps last weekend with 35 kills on .337 hitting while Molly McCage led the way with 12 blocks. For the host Nittany Lions, also coming off three weekend sweeps, Ariel Scott leads the team with 34 kills on .308 hitting while Defensive Player of the Week Katie Slay racked up 16 blocks. Stanford went 2-1 last weekend, falling to Hawaii in four in Honolulu as Jordan Burgess collected 30 kills on .500 hitting and Carly Wopat topped the blocking list with 11. The Gators opened with three weekend sweeps and were led by Chloe Mann with 42 kills on .452 hitting and 10 blocks.

#7 Purdue vs. #12 Washington
The seventh-ranked Boilermakers will face the No. 12 Huskies at the LSU Tiger Classic on Friday at 1pm ET. The tournament was originally scheduled for Baton Rouge, La., but has been moved to Rice University in Houston because of Tropical Storm Isaac. Purdue boasts its highest ranking since 1983, opening the season 3-0, and the Huskies will be a telling test prior to the brutal Big Ten season. Val Nichol led the Boilermakers last weekend with 24 kills while Anna Drewry posted nine blocks. For Washington, also coming off three sweeps last weekend, this is also the biggest preseason match on the schedule before the Pac-12 minefield. Krista Vansant was the workhorse last weekend, putting down 37 kills on .363 kills while also collecting 11 blocks.

#6 Hawaii vs. #25 California
The Rainbow Wahine will host the Golden Bears in the closing match of the Hawaiian Airlines Wahine Volleyball Classic on Sept. 2 at 5:00 p.m. HT. Hawaii opened up the season with three wins, including a four-set victory over then-No. 6 Stanford. Big West Player of the Week Emily Hartong led the squad with 48 kills while Jane Croson added in 46 and Kalei Adolpho notched 11 blocks. Cal is coming off a split weekend that included a tough five-set loss to San Diego State. Adrienne Gehan led the Golden Bears in the two matches with 39 kills on .354 hitting while Shannon Hawari posted 12 blocks.

#14 Tennessee vs. #24 Colorado State
The Lady Vols open up the Shocker Volleyball Classic in Wichita, Kan., on Friday at 5:00 p.m. CT, with a match against the Rams. Tennessee opened up the season with a 0-3 loss to Florida State last weekend but rebounded with wins over Cincinnati and then-No. 10 Iowa State. Kelsey Robinson pounded 55 kills (4.58 kps) on .293 hitting while DeeDee Harrison posted 14 blocks. The Rams moved up one spot in the poll after three sweeps last weekend, and the meeting with Tennessee is one of the more challenging on their preseason schedule. Dana Cranston leads Colorado State with 32 kills (3.54 kps) on .307 hitting while Megan Plourde posted 14 blocks last weekend.

#15 Iowa State vs. #19 Illinois
The Cyclones’ tough preseason schedule continues with two matches at Illinois this weekend; Friday at 7:00 p.m. CT and Saturday at 4:30 p.m. CT. Then-No. 10 Iowa State opened last weekend with a win over Cincinnati but then fell to then-No. 12 Florida State and then-No. 15 Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn. Mackenzie Bigbee leads the squad with 37 kills. Illinois, adjusting to the loss of their two offensive producers, fell to Dayton and Pepperdine in three each to open the season before coming back to defeat Ohio last weekend in Dayton, Ohio. Jocelynn Birks leads the squad with 44 kills while Erin Johnson tops the blocking list with 12.

With so many great matches this weekend, which ones are you going to be watching? 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Let's get this Season Started!

by Jen Armson-Dyer

UCLA: 2011 National Champs
It seems like only yesterday that we were in San Antonio watching the epic matches of the 2011 NCAA Women’s Division I National Championship and now here we are – only a few hours away from the start of the 2012 season. The AVCA Coaches Top 25 preseason poll came out last week and familiar names are near the top again, but here’s hoping for another wacky year where anyone in the preseason poll has a shot. It’s not great for the coaches and their sleeping patterns (or lack thereof), but from a fan’s perspective, anytime a preseason No. 11 (UCLA) can beat a preseason No. 8 (Illinois) for the title in a great match with two of the best young coaches in the game, the future of our sport is bright.

An argument can be made that the last day of preseason is akin to Christmas Eve in terms of excitement and anticipation.  Teams can finally play someone other than themselves, the delirium of three-a-days has produced inside jokes and memories that will carry throughout the season and beyond, and players can finally put all of the hard work and blood, sweat and tears to the test.

Each program has different goals, both subjective and concrete: improve and learn each practice, defeat a certain opponent on the schedule, win the conference, make it to the NCAA tournament. But the ultimate goal of many teams is to be the last standing at mid-court of the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville in December (tickets on sale now!), and there are several programs that have a shot at this experience:

Rachel Kidder
UCLA: The defending national champs return a significant portion of their lineup from a year ago, and this group has the additional experience of “being there” at the end, which many coaches will tell you, is something that will come in handy in tight situations. UCLA will need to replace its setter but brings in a highly talented group of freshmen who could make impacts right away. Add in playing in the minefield of the Pac-12 and the Bruins should be in the picture at the end this season.

Texas: The Longhorns have made it to the NCAA Semifinals three of the last four years after losing to UCLA in the Regional Finals a year ago. The hunger in Austin is palpable and the talent on the roster is stacked. Texas will need to replace a few key cogs from last year’s squad but brings in a large and gifted class of freshmen who could cause the coaching staff fits as they decide on a lineup, as most of these players need to be on the floor!

Penn State: Most programs would love to have the self-proclaimed “down” year that the Nittany Lions had a season ago, but Penn State brings back six of seven starters and fills in some holes with new talent. The competition in the practice gym will be fierce due to depth at several positions, but it will prepare the Lions for the brutal Big Ten season and beyond.

While these three lead the preseason poll, there are any number of teams who have the ability to surprise and beat ranked programs this season. The parity in the sport is evident with five different teams garnering first-place votes in the poll and I don’t think it would be shocking if any team in the top 10 of the poll claims the title at the end of the year.

If the last day of preseason is Christmas Eve, that makes the first matches Christmas morning. So let’s rip off that shiny paper, fire up the laptops for live scoring, video feeds and message boards, and enjoy this crazy, wild and unpredictable ride that is the Division I women’s volleyball season!

Who is on YOUR list to win the NCAA title?

Friday, August 10, 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. 



Saturday, 1:30 PM ET

It's only fitting, right?  No. 1 Team USA takes on No. 2 Brazil for the second straight Olympic Games with the gold medal at stake.  However, this match will be markedly different.  The USA has established themselves as the better team in recent times, further proven by their 3-1 (25-18, 25-17, 22-25, 25-21)  victory in pool play.  As the set scores indicate, the United States breezed through the first two sets before Brazil found their stride in the third.  It makes you wonder if they picked up on something on the U.S. side that can be carried over into this match.

Highlights from the 2008 Olympic Games Gold Medal Match:

But if the host of the 2016 Olympics wants to win gold in London, they'll have to find a way to slow down Destinee Hooker and her fellow attackers.  In that match all of the way back on Monday, July 30th, Hooker led the way with 22 kills, Jordan Larson had 16 kills, Logan Tom finished with 12 and Foluke Akinradewo added nine of her own.  As a team they hit .350 and blocked eight more shots.

Team USA has been focused like none other in recent times.  They were not perfect against Korea, they were challenged with three close sets.  The USA made all of the key plays at the end of each set, but Korea certainly helped them down the stretch with sporadic and uncharacteristic mental errors.  Do not expect those sort of breakdowns by the Brazilian club with the gold medal on the line.

This match will be very, very tough on both sides.  The key word for this final edition of the blog (drum roll please):

 There are many overused analogies in sports, but one of the most important is the ability for teams to adjust.  Both teams have different things they can put in play.  Not necessarily to surprise the other team, but to change the flow of the match if warranted.  What separates these two teams from everyone else is that when a change is needed, the quality of the play does not regress.  Some of these items you have read before in my blog, but they could not be more appropriate in describing what we will see on Saturday:

Jerry Lal/U.S. Presswire
- Be prepared to change the flow of the match.  It may not be necessary, but the USA has the ability to make Brazil make the adjustments.  If one of the outsides is particularly hot for Brazil, look for Tayyiba Haneef-Park come in to block.
- Destinee Rules: Destinee Hooker has been unstoppable.  The whole arena knows that the ball is coming to her, and her attacks still go down.  I would not be surprised to see Brazil do some different things on defense against her.
- Focus on the Block.  USA had a big blocking match against Brazil last time out.  Nothing less here will ensure a gold medal for Team USA.
- Serve the match of your life!  The USA has the ability to serve at a higher level, and this match would be the time to do so.  No aces against Korea, but now will be the time to open it up.
- Look for middles to get set early: Getting the middles off early will be helpful to the overall USA offensive flow.  You want to take the pressure off of Hooker and Larson, who have been the go-to attackers for the USA.

I do think the USA will win this match, but it will certainly be a chess game with the likes of which we have not seen between these two great coaches: Hugh McCutcheon and Jose Guimaraes.  There will be moves and counter-moves that will keep us all on edge for at least four, if not five sets. 

McCutcheon is going for his second gold medal (won gold with the men in 2008), and it's something that will put him amongst the all time greats.  With the national team looking for its first gold medal in women’s volleyball, the incentives are there for all to latch onto, and that will be just enough to put the USA over the top.

Wednesday, August 8, 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. 



Thursday, 10 AM ET

Korea upset Italy to get to the semifinals, while the USA took care of business against the  over-matched Dominicans despite starting setter Lindsey Berg on the sideline nursing her injury.  Courtney Thompson ran the offense very well in her absence, which should come to no surprise.  The interesting thing about this USA team is all it talks about is continued improvement as opposed to sustained success.  Keep getting better and better, no matter how good you are or think you might be.

Korea has made every team that has played them work and work hard.  Win or lose, Korea makes you earn every point.  They upset a higher ranked team again in Italy, but I don’t think it was because Italy had an off match. Korea's style of play wore down the Italians to where it took them out of system.

Lindsey Berg
It will be interesting to see if Lindsey Berg plays or not in this match.  Her ankle has been the subject of much speculation thus far, but Hugh McCutcheon will not tip his hand until he is forced to.  The USA won the match against the Dominican Republic without having to do anything out of the ordinary.  However, the unpredictability of who will start certainly helps the Americans as Korea now has to prepare for the possibility of two setters.

I called the Korean team a counter-puncher last time and I feel the same way today.  Team USA beat Korea in the first pool play match 3-1 (25-19, 25-17, 20-25, 25-21), but the Koreans put up a strong fight, finding their stride in the third set.  Destinee Hooker led the Americans with 21 points.  Head coach Hugh McCutcheon took note of Korea's fight after the pool play match: "As you can see, once they got going, they're a tough team." 

Looking ahead to Thursday, Korea will not be put off by losing rallies.  They will simply keep grinding like they did in their upsets over Italy.  Make no mistake, I am sure that Korea took a lot away from the last time these teams squared off.  Korea will make the USA win every point and it would not surprise me if we were talking about four or five very close games.  If you like defense and long rallies, USA vs. Korea may set some Olympic records that you don’t want to miss! They are way past the point of simply trying to keep up with a team like the USA...they are here to win. 

Kim Yeon Koung
Korean Player to Watch:  Kim Yeon Koung

For Korea, #10 Kim Yeon Koung has been flat out sensational during the Olympics.  Against Italy in the quarterfinals, all she did was go for 28 points.  She had 29 when the USA last played Korea, so she clearly has plenty to offer.    She is the top scorer in the tournament by far with 165, 41 more than the second most, Yekaterina Gamova of Russia.  You think Hooker is having a good Olympics?  Well, Kim has 44 more kills than her! 

What to watch for in Team USA:

-  The setting situation is obviously the first thing.  What will happen here?  Hard to say, but I would not be surprised to see Thompson starting, and saving Berg. 
Megan Hodge
-  Plan on winning the long rallies.  What is a kill against most teams will come back over the net.  Team USA is one of the few teams that has the focus to not let this get to them, and I think they will be ready for the Korean defense.
-  Don’t let other Korean players get on track.  Kim will clearly get her kills.  Don’t let other players beat you.
-  Use some different players to make Korea think.  Scott nor Hodge played the first time against the Koreans.  It isn’t a question of the starters not responding, it is forcing the Koreans to make adjustments to things they have not seen.
-  The process works and has not failed the USA yet.  Don’t have any mental breakdowns against the Koreans who can frustrate any team.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

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

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. 



Wednesday, 11AM ET

Team USA took care of business to win their pool and move on to the quarterfinals. The interesting thing about the this round is that several matches have some regional implications, including Russia and Poland facing off, and Brazil matching up with Argentina.  The fourth match is the Pool A winner, Bulgaria, squaring off with Germany.  I doubt anyone would have predicted these match-ups when the Olympics began!

The USA and Italy are no strangers to one another, last playing in Dallas about a month ago in World League.  To go to the World League Final round, the USA had to win that match and they did just that, eventually falling to Poland (who the USA may see later) in the Finals.  So here we are in a must-win situation yet again.

Highlights from the USA-Italy World League match:

Of course, now that we are in the quarterfinals, there are no “easy” matches.  All will be very competitive because of the "win or go home" format, meaning there will be some teams with very long journeys back to their home country, and for others, the flight will be a celebration!

Where do I think the USA stands in all of this? 

I think the USA has gotten better and better dating back to the beginning of World League - which seems like a long time ago - in May, when the USA was beaten by Italy, and then France.  These early round matches had people kind of wondering where the U.S. was going.  We should congratulate this team and head coach Alan Knipe for the steps forward they've taken that has kept up during the Olympics.  

I actually like the rematch with Italy.  The USA also had a chance to get players some extra rest with their final pool play match against Tunisia, including Clay Stanley and David Lee, who did not play at all.  David Smith, David McKienzie, PaulLotman, Sean Rooney, Russell Holmes and Brian Thornton all had a chance to play long stretches.  This should help the USA against Italy by having fresh players on the floor, as well as the bench being ready to come in and help if needed.

For the USA to move to the semifinals, there are some areas to watch:

Reid Priddy
-  Matt Anderson to keep up his excellent Olympics.  Keep setting him, and ensure that he gets off early against the Italians.  Italy has not had to deal with the Olympics version of the now dominant Anderson.
-  Reid Priddy comes up big, but not necessarily as you think.  Priddy is the heart and soul of Team USA, and that is where he is extremely valuable.  That is not a knock on his physical abilities as much as it is a credit to the intangibles he brings to the table.  With that being said, he is also one of the keys offensively, accumulating 17 points in their win over No. 1 Brazil earlier in pool play.  As further evidence that Priddy is more than just another "intangibles guy," Knipe thought so highly of Priddy as a pure talent that he rested him against the "happy to be here" Tunisians.  
-  Transition will be key.  It has been very good for the USA through much of the Olympics.  Ensure that it stays in place at a high level, especially early in this match against Italy.
-  Don’t lose focus in at each particular moment.  I don’t think that will be a problem since this is a must-win situation.  Look for the bench to be up and loud during the match to help the team focus.

Against the USA, look for the Italian offense to be spread a little more than usual, but nothing the USA has not already seen from Brazil or Russia.  We may also get another look at Alessandro Fei, who may see time at opposite, as he played very well against the USA the last time these teams squared off!

Team Italy's Player to Watch: Michal Lasko

Michal Lasko
Michal Lasko has had some excellent matches  and will present challenges to the American block.   Heading into quarterfinal play, Lasko ranks fifth in the Olympics in points with 82, including 70 kills.  In Italy's dramatic comeback win over Australia to clinch a spot in the quarterfinals, Lasko led the way with 21 kills and six blocks.  When the pressure rose he played his best, so look out for him in this huge match against Team USA.  Perhaps part of the reason for his ability to step up when the pressure is on is because of his father, Lech, who won gold for Poland at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal.

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

Monday, August 6, 2012

Bush's Blog Women's Preview; USA vs. Dominican Republic

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. 



Tuesday, 2 PM ET

The USA did what was expected on Sunday by beating Turkey 3-0.  But make no mistake, Turkey came to play making the USA work for their win.  Nothing will be easy for any team from this point forward as we enter the single elimination phase of the Olympics.

The USA, as the Pool B Winner, will face off against the Dominican Republic in the quarterfinals.  One concern a viewer could have is the potential for the USA to look past the DR, but that just doesn't happen with Hugh McCutcheon's teams.  You see that Turkey match?  That would be understandable to look past a match they didn't really "need" for their standings, but they still played to win.  Every time the U.S. lost a point, you'd see the same look of disgust on the players and coaches faces as it was a medal match.  Team USA's players have spent so long getting ready for chance to win their first ever gold medal, they will not fail to focus on the mission at hand.

The United States' usual weapons were on display against Turkey: Destinee Hooker scored 19 Points, and Foluke Akinradewe added on 15.    Jordan Larson and Christa Harmotto added nine each.  Clearly, the USA was in control for much of this match, but there are some areas of concern going forward.  The most important one is the injured ankle of USA Setter and team captain Lindsey Berg stated the following:  

On her injured right ankle:
Lindsey Berg
“It's okay. I felt something different, something wasn't working and I didn't want to push it. I'm sure it will be fine. I hope I can play on Tuesday.”

This is not a small matter, and it brings up many different possibilities:

- Berg plays as normal, and nothing really changes.
- Courtney Thompson takes over setting duties, allowing Berg to rest, and get ready for the next round.  The only concern with Thompson is how much experience she has setting for the starters, but make no mistake, she's an Olympian for the No. 1 team in the world.  She is more than capable of setting this team to gold if Berg misses significant time.
- Some combination of both, where Berg starts it out, but may take some rotations off to not put too much pressure on her ankle, saving it for the next round.

It’s hard to say right now, but it’ll likely be a well kept secret for the next 24 hours.

Bethania de la Cruz de Pena
There are two players that Team USA will be focusing on for this Dominican Team.  One is #18, Bethania de la Cruz de Pena who can swing with the best players in the world from the outside, and she proved that in the tough matches the Dominicans gave Italy and Russia.  She is tied for the tenth in the tournament with 67 points.  

The other, and this is admittedly unusual, but #5, Libero Brenda Castillo.  She is a game-changer being statistically the top-ranked libero in the Olympics.  In their most recent victory over Algeria, Castillo recorded 17 digs to lead the team.  If she is able to somewhat neutralize the offensive attack led by Destinee Hooker, this could frustrate the United States and force them mentally out of their game.

The Dominican team will play like any Latin American team: with a lot of emotion and fire to keep going and going.  Their coach, Brazilian Marcos Kwiek, has built a team that can compete with the best in the world.  They may not be quite ready to beat the USA right now, but they are right there with teams like Italy and Russia.

The USA has accomplished all it could in this tournament in terms of getting better.  They have improved on areas that they needed to in order to continue the process.

For the USA, here is what to watch for:

Use a variety of lineups and players to focus on getting better. 
Jordan Larson
Come out from the start with intensity.  They need to match up with the Dominican team in this area.
Use the middle attack to set up the rest of the offense.  I think the USA has a big advantage here, and they can really take advantage of their opponent, and that will set up the rest of their high powered offense.
Match the Dominicans in back row plays, and then let the other parts of the game dominate.  When push comes to shove, Team USA can out-play the Dominican Republic in all areas of the match.

Depending on the injury status of Berg, many things could change.  If she is out or not 100% the USA will make the necessary adjustments and move on to the semifinals without any drama.

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