Brazil 3, USA 1 (11-25, 25-17, 25-20, 25-17)
After shock and a bit of sadness, fans of USA volleyball will want to evaluate just how sure-fire gold slipped from the team’s fingers. Here, then, are some early talking points:
IT ALWAYS COMES DOWN TO SERVING AND PASSING
|Brazilian ball falls between Nicole Davis and Lindsey Berg|
In every volleyball match, at every level, winning teams have to serve tough and pass well. Many of USA’s 9 service errors came at inopportune momentum-killing times, especially the 4 by Logan Tom. But USA’s serve-receive was the real story: libero Nicole Davis was simply not up to the task, and USA coach Hugh McCutcheon made a huge mistake sticking with poor-passing Megan Hodge too long. Far too often, USA was operating out-of-system and Brazil was in-system. At this level, that essentially spells defeat.
LINDSEY BERG’S WEAKNESSES WERE EXPOSED
When USA is in-system, Lindsey Berg does a good job setting her favorite target, Destinee Hooker, but too often fails to exploit the considerable hitting skills of her middle blockers. When passes are less than perfect, Berg has shown a striking inability to consistently deliver good balls to her outside hitters.
As the gold medal match drew to its grim conclusion, the camera caught Berg’s steely glare, precisely at a time when she instead needed to be talking to her teammates, offering fire, optimism and leadership.
HUGH McCUTCHEON DROPPED THE BALL
Without question, Hugh McCutcheon is an outstanding coach, easily among the top three in the world. But when Brazil made its move, McCutcheon countered with moves he undoubtedly regret.
· USA’s dismantled Brazil in the first set largely on the strength of Foluke Akinradewo. The powerful middle got touches and blocks seemingly at will, and always rewarded sets with a kill (she made zero hitting errors throughout the match, yet got only 12 sets, mostly in the first set.) For some reason, McCutcheon pulled Akinradewo during the fourth set, right when she might have made a difference. McCutcheon should have insisted that more offense go through Akinradewo, and kept her in the match throughout.
· An even bigger mistake was McCutcheon’s inexplicable decision to insert Hodge for Jordan Larson … and then keep her there. It was clear by the end of the second set that Berg and Hodge were not connecting and that Hodge was not blocking effectively. In the second and third sets, the passing combination of Hodge and Davis was disastrous.
· Toward the end of third set, it was obvious Berg was not going to set Hodge in the back row. At that point, McCutcheon should have put his focus on defense, and inserted Tama Miyashiro to pass. Brazil, by contrast, worked out of its malaise by improving its passing and varying its attack with off speed hits and tips. Better USA defense might have shut down that strategy before it got rolling.
· As Brazil’s confidence grew, its outside hitters attacked at a sharp angle. If McCutcheon didn’t tell his blockers to block cross and force Brazil to attack line, he should have. As it was, nearly every Brazilian kill landed cross-court. And with devastating results.
|USA's Foluke Akinradewo attacks one of her 8 kills. She had no errors and hit .750 for the match|
A POTENT WEAPON WAS LEFT ON THE BENCH
The only USA player who never left the bench was setter Courtney Thompson. Berg’s weaknesses are precisely Thompson’s strengths: Thompson is a fiery leader. She connects well with her outside hitters when she’s out-of-system. She mixes up her targets when she’s in-system. She serves tough. She plays much, much better defense than Berg.
After the utter mess of the second and third sets, McCutcheon needed to shake things up. Inserting Thompson would have done the trick.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
|Brazil's Fe Garay hits cross-court, through the USA block|
If you’re like me, it’s easy to avoid reading about such a painful loss. But, at some point, the lessons learned will lay the groundwork for the next Olympics … in Brazil. With Berg announcing her retirement, McCutcheon leaving to head up Minnesota’s program, and with Scott-Arruda, Haneef-Park and Logan Tom possibly at the end of their long Olympic tenures, how would you evaluate the road ahead?
- In a strange irony, Brazil would not have advanced into the medal round if Turkey had won at least two sets from USA. USA beat Turkey 3-0; even if it had lost (or won 3-2), it would have still advanced as the top seed in Pool B.