Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Olympics | How was USA able to dominate volleyball powerhouse China?

Final score: USA 3, China 0 (26-24, 25-16, 31-29)

One is the youngest member of the team. The other is the oldest.
Until today, neither Megan Hodge, 24, nor Danielle Scott-Arruda, 39, had seen action in the 2012 Olympic Games.
China's Ruoqi Hui misses a block attempt in a 3-0
loss to USA
-Associated Press
But in a pair of jaw-dropping performances, both Hodge and Scott-Arruda came up huge in USA’s stirring 3-0 Olympic conquest of volleyball power China.
In the first set, the Americans came out of a timeout trailing 20-23. Destinee Hooker, who would finish with 17 kills and 7 errors on 40 attempts (.250), connected for a left-side kill. Unexpectedly, USA head coach Hugh McCutcheon substituted Hodge for starting outside hitter Jordan Larson, who had tallied just 2 kills and 2 errors on 7 swings. It would prove a brilliant move.
With Logan Tom serving bullets, Hodge bounced an attack off the head of her Chinese opponent. It was the first of what would eventually be 18 kills and just 4 errors on 27 attempts (.518).
Foluke Akinradewo and Hodge teamed for a block to tie the score at 23. Hooker had a right side kill to get to set point. After a China kill (on a questionable set), setter Lindsey Berg went back to Hodge for her second kill. USA prevailed 26-24 on a Chinese out-of-bounds attack.
“She (Hodge) is very composed in the big moments,” said McCutcheon after the match. “She always feels comfortable when the match or the set is on the line.”
USA's Megan Hodge tips over Junjing Yan's
block attempt
-Getty Images
Keeping Hodge in the match was a risk for McCutcheon. Despite her power, Hodge has struggled with serve receive. In the second set, she was aced when the score was 0-1, had a bad reception at 2-4, and was blocked on a back row attack at 7-9. By the time USA called timeout trailing 7-11, Hodge had just one kill the entire second set.
But after China served in the net (what coaches like to call “time out/side out”), USA was back in rotation two. That meant that, once again, Logan Tom was serving, with the imposing line of Hodge, Akinradewo and Hooker across the front. USA ran off four straight points, starting with a Hodge kill. After a service error, it was another Hodge kill, and Scott-Arruda replaced Christa Harmotto at middle.
At 13-13 came a double block by Scott-Arruda and Hodge. Then a Hodge kill, then another, then another, then another. After China took timeout trailing 13-19, Scott-Arruda scored the next four American points in a row, on three kills and block. After its time-out at 7-11, USA had gone on to win 15 of the next 18 points, 11 by Hodge and Scott-Arruda. The Americans closed out on an 18-5 run to earn a resounding 25-16 second set win.
On December 19, 2009, we were courtside in Tampa, Florida when Penn State and Texas met in the NCAA Finals. Many agree it was perhaps the most dramatic—and possibly the best-ever—championship match in women’s D1 volleyball history. (Penn State overcame an 0-2 deficit and won the fifth set 15-13). Almost everyone on press row that night had the same thought: if both Penn State’s Hodge (21 kills that night) and Texas’ Hooker (34 kills) ever played together at the Olympics, the USA would be unstoppable.
In the third set, they were. Throughout the set, USA never built more than a 3-point lead (3 times), China never pulled ahead by more than 2. At 17-17, Hooker blasted a back row missile that knocked the Chinese defender off her feet.
USA called its first timeout trailing 18-20. McCutcheon looked at the team and said just one thing: “Side out, USA.”
After a Chinese service error, Tom played manic defense, allowing USA to fight off several out-of-system opportunities until Hodge pounded yet another cross-court kill. Tom’s defense and serving were key throughout the match.
Logan Tom served two aces against China
Getty Images
“Their serve is really good and their strong serves made it difficult for us to defend,” said China’s captain Qiuyue Wei afterwards.
Trailing 21-23, McCutcheon called his last timeout. “We side (out), we get one” was all he said. With Courtney Thompson briefly serving and setting, Hodge got the next two USA kills.
At 24-24, USA’s defense dug time and again, until China’s out-of-bounds attack sent McCutcheon leaping with joy.
But China would not fold; it fought off five match points. USA countered with a Hooker back-row kill at 25-25, a Hodge back-row kill at 26-26, an Akinradewo block at 27-27, and a Hodge cross-court kill at 28-28. Tied at 29, Hooker hit a cross-court attack that was so quick, it hit Chinese setter Wei in face, knocking her to the ground.
Now leading 30-29, the last ball went to Hodge, who pushed a tip off the block for the final point.
“What an amazing game,” said Akinradewo. “We showed China what we’re made of.“
Although USA came into the Olympics ranked #1 in world, it has never won Olympic gold (the indoor men’s team won gold in ’84, ’88 and ’08.) The USA women now own pool play victories over both China and Brazil, but are likely to meet one or both of those teams once again in the medal rounds next week.
All 12 women on the USA roster saw action today. That’s a fact that should guarantee late London nights for opposing coaches the rest of the way.


  1. Great article Jack. I was at the match and still learned more from your article than seeing it live. Keep up the great reporting!

  2. thanks for the amazing article, jack! i've been in korea and unable to see any of these matches, but after reading, i'm sure even the replays will be exciting to watch

  3. Seeing Courtney set Hodge I had the hugest "What might have been" moment. We would have been unstoppable in 2006!

    Thanks for the writeup!


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