Saturday, June 23, 2012

Courtney Thompson looks solid in USA Grand Prix Volleyball victory

UW grad gets her chance to set; delivers with strong performance against Argentina

The match in Bangkok started at midnight Seattle time, and the Internet video was glitchy. But you didn’t have to see the computer screen to know when Team USA scored a point against Argentina: you could always hear the familiar “YEAHHHH!” It meant the Americans tallied and that Courtney Thompson (Washington) was the American setter.
Courtney Thompson (22) celebrates with Nicole Davis against Argentina in Bangkok
After a slow start, Thompson and Team USA (8-0 in 2012 World Grand Prix competition) pulled away from Argentina (0-8), sporting a style that was distinctly Thompson’s.
Unlike the previous night, when setter Alisha Glass sent 36 attack chances to her former Penn State teammate Megan Hodge, Thompson spread the assists around. She didn’t ignore Hodge—who hit an eye-popping .500 (15 kills, 1 error)—but also assisted on 10 kills to Cynthia Barboza (Stanford) and six each to Danielle-Scott-Arruda (Long Beach State), Tayyiba Haneef Park (Long Beach State) and Heather Bown (Hawai’i). Nice balance.
With Thompson setting against Argentina, USA hit an impressive .365 (45-10-96). The night before, with Glass at the controls, the team hit just .239 (31-13-113) against Serbia (2-6 in World Grand Prix competition.)

So what might this tell us about who might be on the roster at the London Olympics?
On the one hand, neither Thompson nor Glass get a chance this week to work with the likely Olympic starters: Logan Tom (Stanford), Foluke Akinradewo (Stanford) and Destinee Hooker (Texas) ... all stayed at home for the Grand Prix third round. And, the past two nights, the opponents were from the bottom of the World Grand Prix standings.
But Thompson made the most of her first full-time WGP opportunity. Her defense was solid and occasionally spectacular. Her serving was a bit below her standards, but better, on average, than the usual performances by either Glass or likely Olympic starter Lindsey Berg (Minnesota). Thompson even had a block; on replays, it was obvious that she gets her hands noticeably higher than equally-statured Berg.
Most obviously, however, Thompson is comfortable being a leader. She endlessly encourages her teammates—even her fellow setters. And against Argentina, she continued a habit she’s had since high school: when a hitter makes an error, Thompson gets that hitter the next ball right away. Hitters love the chance to instantly atone.
Courtney Thompson (22) serves against Argentina in 2012 World Grand Prix Third Round competition in Bangkok
Once again, Nicole Davis (USC) wore the libero jersey, offering Tama Miyashiro (Washington) limited time as a spot server. But Miyashiro made the most of it, staying at the line for seven serves, mostly difficult jump floats to the corners. To be honest, Davis had another sub-par performance, with six digs and seven faults on 16 attempts.
Up next: host Thailand. The Thai team has a 7-1 record in WGP competition, a significant step up from Serbia and Argentina. The question is: Thompson or Glass? And if either falters, how quickly will USA coach Hugh McCutcheon be willing to make a change?
One more decision: how hard-core a volleyball fan are you? Tonight’s match starts at 2:40am in Seattle (Sunday morning.) You can usually find it on the menu at Once you connect, ignore all the  “download” and “play” buttons, and wait about a minute for the commercials to end. You should see the match appear in the background (if you log in AFTER 2:40), and can bring it full screen thereafter. Big bonus: there are usually no announcers, so you get to hear the coaches during time outs.

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