Sunday, July 1, 2012

Former Washington duo excel in World Grand Prix volleyball championship

Courtney Thompson and Tama Miyashiro play key roles in 3-0 win over China; await Olympic decision

[update: Since this blog was first posted, we've learned that the US Olympic team roster is due by the end of the day July 2, not at noon, as previously reported. Also, the names of those selected may not be released until after the 4th of July holiday]

With gold medals around their necks and confetti in their hair, former University of Washington All-Americans Courtney Thompson and Tama Miyashiro had reason to smile.
The USA National Team celebrates winning the 2012 World Grand Prix championships. Washington's Tama Miyashiro is on the far right; Washington's Courtney Thompson is fourth from the left.
-photo courtesy FIVB
Not only had Team USA cleared the final hurdle to winning its third consecutive World Grand Prix volleyball championship by defeating host China in Ningbo, but both players seemed to have earned the confidence of coach Hugh McCutcheon when the match was on the line.
Until this week, Miyashiro had seen limited court time during the month-long tournament. But Friday’s unspecified injury to USC’s Nicole Davis allowed Miyashiro to wear the libero jersey against Turkey, Cuba and China. In all three matches—and especially against the Chinese—Miyashiro was sensational, passing nails and hustling for key digs.
Setter Thompson has been on the roster the final three weeks of the WGP, usually playing one rotation per set. Against China, starter Alisha Glass continued her usual pattern of setting former Penn State teammate Megan Hodge, rarely getting the ball to the opposites or middles, even when the team is in system. As the match wore on, China kept things close, and exploited Hodge’s inconsistent passing. Too often, Glass still went to Hodge, even after difficult serve receives.
The US won the first two sets, but only after surviving China’s 7-2 run at the end of set two. China opened set three with a 5-1 lead, and was ahead 17-14 when Thompson rotated in and immediately served an ace.
Courtney Thompson (22) and
Kristin Richards dig ball
against China
-photo courtesy FIVB
At 18-18, the teams played a long, stirring point. When McCutcheon studies film, he’ll see Thompson and Miyashiro on the corners, each in perfect defensive position: knees bent, heads up, arms down and shoulders squared to the hitter. Time and again, Chinese hitters connected with power; time and again, the two former Huskies were there. At one point, Thompson flew toward the bench to save the rally; at another, Miyashiro dug a bomb right to Thompson. In the end it was Miyashiro to Thompson to Tayyiba Haneef-Park for the kill.
Every other time Thompson rotates to the front row, McCutcheon re-inserts the taller Glass. But this time, he kept Thompson in the game. Mixing her sets and providing fiery leadership, Thompson stayed until the very end, helping fight off two Chinese set points. When it was all over, the USA had a 3-0 sweep and a 13-0 record in the 2012 WGP Tournament.
“We played a great game,” McCutcheon said in the post-match press conference. “Especially in the third set, our players found ways to win.”
“It is wonderful to see players make plays in big moments.”
McCutcheon has until noon the end of the day Monday to submit the 12-member roster for the London Olympics. (USA Volleyball says the announcement may not be made public until Tuesday after the 4th of July). It would be a shocker if Miyashiro doesn’t make the cut: Davis might be vulnerable to injury. And, quite frankly, Miyashiro played better against China than Davis played against any of the other opponents the past month.
Thompson’s position is more tenuous. Minnesota’s Lindsey Berg will undoubtedly get one of the two setter spots, with Thompson or Glass as backup. The two contenders have equal technique and both get similar results on their serves (few errors, intermittent aces.) Although Glass is taller, her occasional blocks produce far fewer points than the rallies saved by Thompson’s superior defense. Either player would enter an Olympic match as a one-rotation-per-set replacement; that’s a role Thompson has performed extremely well the past month. And Thompson has the intangibles—she is an unabashed floor leader, whose enthusiasm and grit make those around her play better.
(L to R) Danielle Scott-Arruda, Heather Bown, Megan Hodge, Courtney Thompson, Kristin Richards and Tayyiba Haneef-Park celebrate the final point of the 2012 WGP victory against China
-photo courtesy FIVB
The final point of the China match ended with a block by Danielle Scott-Arruda, a 40-year-old Olympic veteran with a megawatt smile. Thompson, however, immediately raced into the arms of another veteran, Hawai’i’s Heather Bown. Bown had just made two picture-perfect serves at clutch moments. Thompson, as usual, understood that the keys to success are often in the smallest details.

  • Team USA earned $200,000 for winning the championship, and another $105,000 for winning each of its first three pools. FIVB requires that at least 40% of that money be distributed to the players. A USA Volleyball spokesman declined to reveal how shares will be divided among the Americans.
  • Team USA outside hitter Megan Hodge was named the 2012 World Grand Prix most valuable player. She received a check for $15,000.
  • McCutcheon must name 12 players to his Olympic roster. It is widely assumed that the following 8 players have already earned spots, though nothing is official:

setter 1: Lindsey Berg (Minnesota)
outside hitter 1: Logan Tom (Stanford)
outside hitter 2: Jordan Larson (Nebraska)
outside hitter 3: Megan Hodge (Penn State)
opposite hitter 1: Destinee Hooker (Texas)
middle blocker 1: Foluke Akinradewo (Stanford)
middle blocker 2: Christa Harmotto (Penn State)
libero: Nicole Davis (USC)
McCutcheon will probably take one more setter, one more middle blocker, one more opposite hitter and either Miyashiro or one more outside hitter. The 9 following players are the likely finalists for the final 4 roster spots: 
setter Courtney Thompson (Washington)
setter Alisha Glass (Penn State)
libero/defensive specialist Tama Miyashiro (Washington)
middle blocker Danielle Scott-Arruda (Long Beach State)
middle blocker Heather Bown (Hawai’i)
opposite hitter Tayyiba Haneef-Park (Long Beach State)
opposite hitter Nancy Metcalf (Nebraska)
outside hitter Kristin Richards (Stanford)
outside hitter Cynthia Barboza (Stanford)

1 comment:

  1. What an exciting article!

    Congrats to the team, and thanks, Jack, for keeping us informed.

    Fingers crossed for Courtney and Tama...


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