Tuesday, August 25, 2015

USA beats China in World Cup despite struggles at setter

No UW alums on roster | HS volleyball surpasses basketball | Beach tourney at Alki

USA players celebrate a point during a 3-0 World Cup win over co-favorite China
The 2015 World Cup, hosted by Japan, is a big deal. That’s because the top two teams in the 12-team round-robin earn the first two berths for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

Yesterday, USA defeated co-favorite China 3-0, overcoming passing and setting problems that led to an earlier 3-2 loss to Serbia. Three Washington alums were left off the World Cup roster: setter Courtney Thompson, libero Tama Miyashiro and outside hitter Krista Vansant. All three are still in the running for an Olympic roster spot next summer.

See much more in our online report for Volleyball Magazine. And once you’ve read the report, feel free to add your comments.


As we’ve been charting for years, girls’ and women’s volleyball has been on a trajectory to overtake basketball as the most popular team sport in America.

Now, at the high school level, that landmark has been reached. According to the latest National Federation of High Schools Participation Survey, volleyball passed basketball in total female participants this year. 432,176 girls played high school volleyball last year, compared to 429,504 for basketball. In Washington State, volleyball has long been #1, and continues to widen the gap, 10,593 to 8,591. Ten years ago, volleyball led 9,099 to 8,863. Twenty years ago, basketball was tops, 10,586 to 10,280.

As always, this means that parents, players and coaches need to constantly remind those who manage gymnasiums—especially in schools and public recreation centers—that basketball hoops should not always be the default setup in their gyms. There are huge numbers of girls, boys, women and men who are eager to walk into gyms where volleyball nets aren’t buried in the back of the storage closet.


The National Volleyball League, one of two competing professional sand volleyball circuits, is coming to Seattle’s Alki Beach this weekend.

The NVL’s Seattle Championships are this Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Alki, running throughout the morning and afternoon all three days. Sunday’s women’s finals are at 2:30; the men’s are at 4:00. The complete schedule is here.

On Sunday, NVL is offering a free clinic on basic beach volleyball fundamentals for students 6-18 years old. Register here.

A competing tour, the AVP, had a stop in our region earlier this month at Lake Sammamish.


Former Washington setter Jenni Nogueras is currently playing professionally for Cayey in Puerto Rico.

Alert Volleyblog Seattle reader Rex Andrew points out that Nogueras was named Rookie of the Year for Puerto Rico’s Premiere League this past season. Thanks, Rex, and congratulations Jenni.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

College | Washington volleyball ranks high in preseason polls

Coaches predict Huskies will finish 3rd in Pac-12, #10 in first national AVCA poll

Third team All-American Lianna Sybeldon will be a Washington senior in 2015
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

Volleyball coaches like Washington’s chances in 2015.

In the annual preseason Pac-12 coaches’ poll, Washington finished third, behind Stanford and Arizona State. Stanford got 11 first-place votes, Washington got the other top nod. Because coaches cannot vote for their own teams in this poll, we know Stanford’s John Dunning picked UW for the top spot, and that Washington’s Keegan Cook joined every other coach in choosing Stanford. Stanford will be without All-American middle blocker Inky Ajanaku, out for the season with a knee injury sustained while playing with the US National Team this summer in Peru. (see: Stanford volleyball All-American Inky Ajanaku injured.)

In the first weekly AVCA national coaches’ Top 25 poll, Washington is ranked #10. Penn State is #1 and Stanford #2. Other Pac-12 teams include #13 Oregon, #16 Arizona State, #17 Arizona, #20 UCLA, #22 USC, #23 Utah and #24 Colorado. Oregon State is not in the top 25, but received enough votes to rank #29. Only two Pac-12 schools—California and Washington State—did not receive votes.

Over the past two seasons, the Huskies have won a combined 63 of their past 69 matches, losing just twice each season to Pac-12 foes (once at Stanford, once at Utah, twice at Colorado). The other two losses were to eventual national champion Penn State in the 2013 NCAA Final Four, and to Nebraska in the 2014 NCAA Round of 16.

AVCA Week 1 Poll

Pac-12 Preseason Poll
Penn State (54)

Stanford (11)
Stanford (6)

Arizona St
Texas (1)

Washington (1)


Wisconsin (1)

North Carolina


Florida St

Oregon St


Colorado St

Washington St

Ohio State


Arizona St



Michigan St


Iowa St





Wednesday, August 5, 2015

National Team | Krista Vansant transitions to volleyball’s world stage

Vansant joins fellow UW alums Thompson and Miyashiro for Give it Back Foundation fundraiser; Misty May-Treanor at AVP event in Seattle this weekend

US National Team setter Courtney Thompson, outside hitter Krista Vansant and libero Tama Miyashiro at the Give it Back Foundation workshop in Lynwood's Academy Sports Center
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

From where she stood, Krista Vansant could see both her past and her future.

In Washington Volleyball Academy’s gorgeous new Academy Sports Center in Lynwood, the former Washington All-American looked out at bleachers full of eager young athletes. The youngest were freckled, wearing braces on their teeth and headbands across their foreheads. The oldest were anxious about the approach of college and the demands of big-time volleyball.

On either side of Vansant were nine of her US National Team teammates, including fellow UW alums, Olympians Courtney Thompson and Tama Miyashiro. Thompson and Miyashiro had gathered everyone in Seattle for three days of technical and team-building workshops, all to raise funds for their new nonprofit, the Give it Back Foundation.

Squeezed between those two worlds, Vansant admitted that the transition from college star to international rookie has been a challenge.

“Definitely uncomfortable,” she said. “I don’t know if there’s ever a point where you feel comfortable. Even when I was at Washington, I don’t think I ever actually felt comfortable. I think that’s how you learn. I don’t think you can learn in a comfortable setting.”

In American volleyball, it’s rare for players just out of college to be in serious contention for roster spots in major competitions. But both Vansant and UCLA grad Karsta Lowe have made a splash this summer. Vansant was the leading scorer and MVP of her first international tournament, the Pan Am Cup in Peru. Last month, she spent two weeks in Turkey and Russia as USA won its first six matches of the World Grand Prix, then headed to Toronto as USA’s starting outside hitter at the Pan Am Games.

“It was a little weird,” she admits, “because the Toronto group had been training while we were off at Grand Prix. They had been working on different things and had a good sense of each other, especially with the setters. But we’re all friends, we all get along. So, it’s easy to fit in.”

On one amazing Saturday, one American split squad—including Thompson, Miyashiro and Lowe—won the Grand Prix gold in Omaha by defeating a Brazilian split squad, while Vansant and her teammates in Toronto beat the other Brazilian squad—including several Olympians—for the Pan Am gold medal.

At the international level, outside hitters must excel at attacking, blocking, passing and serving. Vansant has stepped into a system that some are calling “USA fast,” a quick-tempo offense with sharp passing and flat, pinpoint sets, something Vansant experienced during her four years at Washington.

“It’s not that much faster in-system,” Vansant says. “But out of system, it’s way faster than what I’ve ever done. At UW, we called a first step set out-of-system, now we’re going second-step sets in transition out-of-system. The coaches had to tell me multiple times, ’Krista, we’re going to set you a go.’ I had to trans off faster or get going faster.

“It’s definitely what I try to do. I think (former UW coach) Jim (McLaughlin) ingrained that into my head my freshman year: you’ve gotta get off the net, you have to be an offensive option. And it’s what I’ve been doing since then. But even today, there were times in Toronto when my teammates looked at me and said, you’re not transing hard enough, you need to trans harder.

“That was a wakeup call for me. You think in your head you’re doing something really well, and then some outsider tells you that, you figure it’s time to really kick yourself into gear and go. I think it’s a part of me, but I know I can still get better. I can get even further off to get an even bigger approach. I’m going against some huge blockers, so I have to take every advantage I can.”

Later this month, the US joins 11 other teams in Japan for the World Cup, an 11-match, 15-day round-robin. The top two teams earn a ticket to next summer’s Rio Olympics. 14 players will be on that World Cup team, and Vansant may be one of them (with setter Thompson and libero Miyashiro also likely candidates.) This fall, she’ll get her first professional paycheck, playing (with USA teammates Foluke Akinradewo and Natalie Hagglund) for Thompson’s old team, Volero Zurich.

And besides working on the technical side of her game, she hopes to take other steps forward, too. On that list: learning to relax when something on the court goes wrong.

“When I make mistakes, I get within myself. I stop talking, and that’s when bad stuff happens. Self-talk has really helped me. I’m trying to play outside myself. Jim (McLaughlin) would tell me that all the time, just play outside yourself, let your instincts come.

“I’ve been playing this game for over half my life, so it is instinctual for me. I hope frustrations are not too dramatic on my face, but sometimes it just happens.”

  • Two giant Northwest beach volleyball events conflict this weekend. The AVP professional beach volleyball tour will be in Seattle this weekend at Lake Sammamish, while the annual Seaside tournament kicks off in Seaside, Oregon. The latter event is for beach players of all skill levels, while the AVP event is a chance to see some of the world’s top professionals and Olympians make a rare appearance in the Seattle area.
Olympian Misty May-Treanor will play in her first pro tournament since the London Olympics, partnering with Brittany Hochevar. An AVP spokesperson would not call this a “comeback,” for May-Treanor, and points out that she and Hochevar will be seeded 12th.
Also on the sand will be former UW player Summer Ross, and recent Pan Am Games indoor gold medalists Kristin Hildebrand and Lauren Paolini, playing in their first-ever AVP tournament.

Monday, July 27, 2015

National Team | What we learned from USA volleyball’s giant July

Olympic countdown begins for Washington alums Thompson, Miyashiro, Vansant and Hagglund; several USA team members coming to Seattle this weekend
  • USA def. China 3-0 (25-23, 25-19, 25-18) [USA wins 2015 World Grand Prix]

USA celebrates winning 2015 World Grand Prix championships after 3-0 win against China

Plenty of medals were slipped around USA volleyball athlete’s necks this weekend. On Saturday, former Washington All-Americans Krista Vansant and Jenna Hagglund joined one set of US National Team teammates on the Pan Am Games gold medal podium in Toronto. On Sunday, Husky Olympians Courtney Thompson and Tama Miyashiro bathed—with a different set of teammates— in the cheers of a World Grand Prix championship in Omaha.

The 26 women on those two split squads join about 3 or 4 others who are now in the running for one of 12 spots on the roster for next summer’s 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro … once USA actually nails down one of the Olympic Games bids. The first—and most important—opportunity to claim the first two Olympic invites starts next month in Japan, at the 12 team round-robin World Cup. The two teams with the records will punch the first two tickets to Rio (joining Brazil, which gets an automatic bid as host.)

[Note: many of US National Team players will be in Seattle this weekend for a foundation fundraiser. See the end of this post.]

The 14 athletes selected for the World Cup roster won’t necessarily include the final 12 selected next summer for the Olympics. But it will be close. And the just-completed tournaments offer a few clues about the chances for Washington’s four alums.


USA setter Courtney Thompson celebrates a point in a World Grand Prix win over China
At 30, Thompson is now one of the National Team’s most experienced players and is clearly one of its leaders. She was a World Grand Prix co-captain, and had a big presence throughout the four-week round-the-world tournament.

Under an offense pioneered by Hugh McCutcheon and continued by Karch Kiraly, Thompson enters each set like a baseball closer. As part of a double substitution with the starting setter and opposite, her presence keeps three hitters on the front line for nine consecutive rotations. She brings a reliable serve and a strong, confident approach to her setting.

Most of all, Thompson is a world class defender, which is one reason why she has an advantage over Molly Kreklow if Alicia Glass is able to return to the lineup. Kreklow has done a great job while Glass recovers from ankle injuries, but both Kreklow and Glass are competing for one position, while Thompson is the clear leader for the double-sub. After watching her performance, long-time television broadcaster Paul Sunderland was compelled to say, “Courtney Thompson will be in Rio. I guarantee it.”


Like Thompson, Miyashiro is a veteran of the 2012 London Olympics. Also like Thompson, she is currently a strong favorite for one of five non-starting roles on the Rio roster.

During the current quad, Kayla Banwarth clearly took the reins as USA’s libero. But after recovering from injury, Miyashiro made the most of her World Grand Prix opportunities. During her limited time on the court, she looked rejuvenated—strong, steady, full of energy. Miyashiro’s eyework has always been her strength, allowing her to be in position for balls that others miss.

In the months ahead, Miyashiro will face two challenges. One may come from former USC libero Natalie Hagglund, who did a good job with the Toronto squad at the Pan Am Games. The other may come from Kiraly’s decision whether to take three outside hitters and two liberos (as McCutcheon did in London), or four outside hitters and just one libero. The latter is a risky strategy, trading more offensive options for the security of a defensive backup in case of injury.


The breakout star of the summer has been rookie opposite Karsta Lowe, MVP of the World Grand Prix. Next in line, however, is Vansant, another rookie who has impressed at three different tournaments, including MVP of June’s Pan Am Cup in Lima (not to be confused with July’s Pan Am Games in Toronto.)

Barring injury, Jordan Larson-Burbach and Kim Hill will be two of the outside hitters on the Rio roster. Vansant is now squarely in the conversation for the third spot, though it won’t be easy. When everything is clicking, she has all the tools, including the crucial passing and serving skills needed in the international game. Vansant’s challenge may be mental; overcoming the temptation to let one bad play affect the next several points.

Megan Easy was in London, and has recently returned after becoming a new mom. Easy’s Achilles heel has always been her passing, which cost her playing time throughout the Grand Prix. Given a chance to start Sunday against a China team that rarely served her way, she had a great game, getting 11 kills and no errors on 17 swings. Vansant has an opportunity—including the outside chance that Kiraly will decide to take four outside hitters to the Olympics.


Hagglund has been getting a good, long look all summer, and continues to impress. The competition for starting setter is a real traffic jam, with Carli Lloyd also in the picture with Glass and Kreklow. In Toronto, Hagglund had the same double-sub role that Thompson had in Omaha. And just like Thompson, she excelled, often leading her team on long runs during her time in the lineup.

Hagglund might have a serious shot if Thompson should somehow become unavailable. Barring that, she has surprised a lot of folks with her focus and determination. During the five years since she turned pro, literally hundreds of setters have come out of college. That she is on the US National Team and among the top five in the depth chart is an impressive feat.


Courtney Thompson, Tama Miyashiro and Krista Vansant will be among several US National Team players in Seattle this Friday and Saturday. Their appearance is the premiere event for the Give it Back Foundation, an organization co-founded by Thompson, Miyashiro and other teammates. A Saturday event sponsored by KJ Volleyball Club is already sold out, but there are still tickets available for a Friday event sponsored by the Washington Volleyball Academy. See http://academyvb.com/product/teamusa/ for registration and information.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

National Team | A double sweep as USA wins two titles, both 3-0 over Brazil

Thompson, Miyashiro part of World Grand Prix championship in Omaha; Vansant, Hagglund win Pan Am Games gold in Toronto
  • USA def. Brazil 3-0 (25-16, 25-22, 25-21) [World Grand Prix Finals]
  • USA def. Brazil 3-0 (25-22, 25-21, 28-26) [Pan Am Games Gold Medal Match]

USA players celebrate a point in a 3-0 sweep of Brazil to win the 2015 World Grand Prix championship

USA won two titles in two countries Saturday, in both cases earning 3-0 sweeps against rival Brazil.

In Omaha, setters Molly Kreklow and Courtney Thompson spread the offense about as evenly as possible in a 3-0 win over the Brazilians (25-16, 25-22, 25-21). With the win, USA (4-0) clinched the 2015 World Grand Prix championship, even as they have one match remaining, Sunday morning against China (broadcast live at 10AM Pacific on NBC.)

Thompson and Kreklow kept Brazilian defenders off-balance by securing a combined 16 kills from outside hitters Kim Hill (10) and Kelsey Robinson (6), 15 combined kills from middle blockers Foluke Akinradewo (8) and Christa Dietzen (7) and 14 combined kills from opposites Karsta Lowe (9) and Kelly Murphy (5).

USA middle blocker had 7 kills and 7 blocks in a 3-0 sweep of Brazil

“We knew it was important to serve tough,” said US head coach Karch Kiraly, who credited Dietzen and Akinradewo with helping organize the American defense each time Brazil struggled to pass. Dietzen has 7 terminations blocks in the match, while fellow middle Akinradewo had 6 soft blocks.

“Brazil plays a very similar style as we do,” said Dietzen. “As blockers, we see attacks like those in our own gym.”

In Toronto, an American roster without a single Olympic veteran faced a Brazilian team that included several Olympic champions. One of those Brazilian veterans, outside hitter Fe Garay, showed an ability to dominate the match, serving aces and attacking with power from both the front and back row.

Each time Brazil surged ahead, the American scrambled back, thanks to exceptional defense by libero Natalie Hagglund (17 digs) and an offensive explosion by opposite Nicole Fawcett (19 kills). Outside hitter Krista Vansant struggled at times, especially with her passing, but contributed 10 kills. Jenna Hagglund, entering on the double-sub, led several big runs late in each set.

In the third set, Vansant excelled late at the service line, putting USA in a position to turn away three Brazilian set points. In the end, it was another 3-0 sweep for USA (25-22, 25-21, 28-26.), and Pan Am gold around their necks.

Friday, July 24, 2015

National Team | USA overcomes big Russian hitter to go 3-0 in Grand Prix Finals

Courtney Thompson: “We had no doubt”
  • USA def. Russia 3-1 (26-24, 19-25, 25-16, 25-22) [World Grand Prix Finals third round-robin]

It was the second set, and Nataliya Goncharova was on fire. Russia’s 6-4 opposite was on her way to a match-high 25 kills on 51 swings, and had her team up 16-10. That’s when USA setter Courtney Thompson and opposite Kelly Murphy entered on the double-substitution.

USA setter Courtney Thompson celebrates a point in a 3-1 World Grand Prix Finals win over Russia

“We could be down by ten, and we’re optimistic that something good is about to happen,” said Thompson. “We had no doubt, and we love those opportunities to make big plays.”

With Thompson dishing across the line, the Americans closed to 20-17 before she and Murphy rotated out. From there, Goncharova again took over, landing 3 more kills to tie the sets at 1-1.

In the USA huddle, USA head coach Karch Kiraly made some adjustments. “We changed our blocking scheme a little to try and slow #8 (Goncharova) down,” said Kiraly. “That’s a tough thing to do. She’s a handful.”

Sure enough, Goncharova began to fade, helped in part by improved USA serving and passing. “We just made little plays,” said Thompson. “We got on ‘em serving, we got on a few runs and we were able to terminate a few balls in transition.”

USA players celebrate a point in a 3-1 World Grand Prix Finals win over Russia

In the fourth set, Russia built a 22-20 lead. Middle blocker Tori Dixon’s quick kill sent her to the line, where she served the final four points of the set, including a match-clinching service ace. That brought the USA record to 3-0 in the round-robin World Grand Prix Final, with Brazil (2-1) and China (1-2) still on the schedule.

The Russians are a tall and young team. Ultimately, it was USA’s quick tempo that made the difference. Except for the second set, sharp passing allowed setters Molly Kreklow and Thompson to go time and again to Karsta Lowe and to the middles. Foluke Akinradewo finished with 13 kills on 24 attacks; Dixon added 8 kills on 18 swings. Once again, Lowe was USA’s scoring leader, tallying 19 kills on 38 attempts and adding 3 blocks.

USA players celebrate a point in a 3-1 World Grand Prix Finals win over Russia; Tori Dixon in center

Saturday features a rare USA/Brazil doubleheader. In Omaha, the two teams square off in the fourth round-robin match of the World Grand Prix Finals. Later in the evening, their split squads—including Krista Vansant and Jenna Hagglund—play for the gold in the Pan Am Games in Toronto.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

National Team | Two more wins for USA in World Grand Prix and Pan Am Games

Miyashiro and Thompson excel in Omaha; Vansant has another big night in Toronto
  • USA def. Italy 3-1 (25-17, 25-14, 15-25, 25-18) [World Grand Prix Final Round]
  • USA def. Dominican Republic 3-1 (25-17, 22-25, 25-18, 25-22) [Pan Am Games semifinals]

USA libero Tama Miyashiro digs one of 15 balls in a 3-1 World Grand Prix victory over Italy

Former Washington All-Americans continued to excel as US National Team split squads once again picked up victories in the round-robin final round of the World Grand Prix and in the semifinals of the Pan Am Games.

In Omaha, Tama Miyashiro had 15 digs and was in an excellent serve receive groove as USA’s defense outlasted a scrappy Italian team 3-1 (25-17, 25-14, 15-25, 25-18). Christa Dietzen led the US with 13 kills. Courtney Thompson made long runs in each set of the setter/opposite double-sub, at one point connecting with Karsta Lowe for 4 straight kills.

Team USA, including Courtney Thompson (3) and Tama Miyashiro (5) celebrate a point against Italy.

Over five days of competition, each of the six World Grand Prix finalists play each other once. On Friday night, USA squares off against Russia, the only other undefeated (2-0) team in final round robin. Earlier Thursday, Russia handed Brazil its first loss of the 2015 World Grand Prix, a 3-0 pasting led by Nataliya Goncharova’s 16 kills and 8 blocks. Also Thursday, China beat Japan 3-0.

In Toronto, USA defeated Dominican Republic 3-1 (25-17, 22-25, 25-18, 25-22) in the Pan Am Games semifinals. The Americans were led by Nicole Fawcett (14 kills,) Krista Vansant (13 kills) and Rachael Adams (6 blocks.) On Friday, USA goes for the gold medal against Brazil, a 3-2 winner over Puerto Rico.

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