Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Olympics | Keys to Wednesday’s USA vs. China match

USA (2-0) vs. China (2-0)
Wednesday, August 1, 12:00noon (Pacific)
[Live on www.nbcolympics.com/liveextra/]

After dispatching Brazil, the US team faces another formidable foe: China.
Here are a couple things to watch when the teams take the court Wednesday at noon (Pacific):
USA’s serve receive was vastly better against Brazil than in its first match against South Korea. At every level of volleyball, the ability of back row players to consistently deliver clean passes gives a setter her full arsenal of weapons. Conversely, several USA servers have room for improvement, as they’ve delivered too many easily-passed balls to their opponents.
American setter Lindsey Berg has made little secret that Destinee Hooker is her go-to hitter. That said, Berg’s distribution has been both respectable—and consistent. Here are the attack attempts for the first two matches:

vs. South Korea
vs. Brazil
Destinee Hooker
Jordan Larson
Logan Tom
Foluke Akinradewo
Christa Harmotto
(NOTE: Berg delivered 71% of USA’s sets against Korea and 77% against Brazil)
If opponents key on Hooker, or if Hooker gets tired (as she seemed to against South Korea), Berg will need all her weapons. In particular, both Akinradewo and Harmotto are capable of piling up points when the opponent’s second middle blocker is in the rotation; Berg would do well to look to them more often.
Both USA setters—Lindsey Berg and Courtney Thompson—are 5-8, on the short side for international play. While blocking is not their first responsibility, the USA is vulnerable in rotations 4, 5 & 6, when the setter is in the front row. In those rotations, Harmotto has helped tremendously with her eyework and long arms, often blocking line by reaching over Berg. The trouble comes when opponents tip … and Hooker is playing back row behind the setter. USA did a great job covering tips against Brazil, however, and may need to be equally alert against the Chinese.
Lindsey Berg (4), Christa Harmotto (13) and Logan Tom (15) put up a right side triple block against Brazil
-photo courtesy David Weitl

Monday, July 30, 2012

Olympic diary | Courtney Thompson relives opening ceremony

Volleyblog Seattle is working with Courtney Thompson to produce periodic Olympic diaries for the Seattle Times.

The second installment is now on the Times' website (and in Tuesday’s paper)

Former Husky Janine Sandell leads Britain to historic volleyball win

Janine Sandell, a member of the University of Washington's 2006 Final Four volleyball team, shone brightly in the London spotlight at the 2012 Olympics.

Former Washington Husky Janine Sandell (R) connects during Great Britain's 3-2 victory over Algeria
Sandell, born in London, had 13 kills--including several down the stretch--to lead host Great Britain to an historic 3-2 win against Algeria. It was the first-ever women's volleyball Olympic victory for Britain.

Sandell was effective in both the front and back row, serving several key tough serves, and connecting from left, right and back row. She added 2 blocks, 1 ace and 7 digs.

Britain entered the Olympics ranked 69th in the world. As the host nation, it was guaranteed one of twelve Olympic slots. Algeria was ranked 16th.

Set scores were 22-25, 25-19, 23-25, 25-19, 15-8.

Great Britain is now 1-1 in Pool A. The USA is 2-0 in Pool B.

Olympics | #1 USA defeats #2 Brazil

Final score: USA 3, Brazil 1 (25-18, 25-17, 22-25, 25-21)
Next match: Wednesday, noon (Pacific) vs. China

When two top teams meet in a marquee match, it usually comes down to serving.
Brazil’s inability to serve well was the most important storyline as top-ranked USA prevailed 3-1 in a much-anticipated Olympic pool play showdown. At the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Brazil took the gold and USA the silver.
Jordan Larson, Nicole Davis, Logan Tom, Foluke Akinradewo and Destinee Hooker celebrate a point against Brazil
-USA Volleyball
At the most obvious level, Brazil gave away far too many points—15—on outright service errors, compared to just 7 for the USA (3 by Jordan Larson). In the decisive fourth set, Brazil missed its final two serves, while Larson and Logan Tom served tough.
And throughout the match, Brazil’s in-bounds serves were generally not tough enough, producing just 3 aces and allowing the Americans to make far too many decent passes. When the USA was in system, it rarely made mistakes.
Brazil proved to be a lopsided team. When middle blocker Thaisa Menezes was in the front row, the offense clicked. But on two rotations, both the second middle blocker (usually Fabiana Claudino) and the setter (alternating between Fernanda Ferreira and Danielle Lins) were ineffective, allowing the USA to concentrate on just one hitter. In fact, Brazil rarely went to its opposite hitter, and it set few quicks to either middle.
“[USA] is a team that deserves a lot of respect,” said veteran Brazilian hitter Paula Pequeno, “but they have a lot of weak points that we have to know how to take advantage of. They put all of the responsibility on top of us and just defended. We need to have more patience and better ourselves a lot.”

Logan Tom tips past Fernanda Ferreira (9) and Fabiana Claudino
-Getty Images
Libero Nicole Davis, despite a few lapses in the fourth set, played much better than she did against South Korea, committing just two serve-receive errors and just two digging errors. That allowed setter Lindsey Berg to set with notable confidence and better deception.
Once again, Destinee Hooker was the top attacker, recording 22 kills and 3 errors on 45 attempts (.422). Logan Tom bounced back with big numbers: 12 kills and just 1 error on 27 attempts (.407). Jordan Larson was once again solid with 16 kills and 6 on 36 attempts (.277).
With better passes, Berg was also able to get her middles more involved in the offense. Foluke Akinradewo had 9 kills and 4 errors on 19 attempts (.263), while Christa Harmotto added 4 kills and 1 error on 8 attempts (.375).
Both Courtney Thompson and Tama Miyashiro saw time as substitutes; both played well, but neither was in long enough to influence the match.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Olympics | #1 vs. #2: USA/Brazil Preview

Monday, July 30 | 8:45am (Pacific): #1 USA vs. #2 Brazil
NBC Live Extra www.nbcolympics.com/liveextra
One of the biggest matchups of the 2012 London Olympic Games is just hours away.
Courtney Thompson and Tayyiba Haneef-Park
celebrate a point against South Korea
Earlier this year, the USA bumped Brazil from the top of the world volleyball rankings. The Americans strengthened that position by defeating Brazil twice during the 2012 World Grand Prix competition.
Monday’s showdown could be a doozy. Both teams struggled in their Olympic openers. Brazil needed five sets to defeat Turkey, an emerging power. According to our friends and contacts who watched both the USA and Brazil in London Saturday, here’s how they compare:
  • Brazil was the better passing and digging team. USA often struggled against South Korea; libero Nicole Davis had 8 passing errors, including a couple of fairly clean opportunities.
  • USA’s blockers were more dominant. Foluke Akinradewo and Christa Harmotto were particularly effective, with Tayyiba Haneef-Park helping Harmotto completely shut down the Koreans at the end of the match.
  • Both teams are effective when they set the Quick: a fast, flat delivery right to the hands of the middle blocker. USA setter Lindsey Berg, however, didn’t look to her middles very often, however.
  • Berg relies as much as she can on one hitter: Destinee Hooker. She set Hooker on the right, left and in the back. When Hooker was on, they got results. But with relatively few chances, other hitters had a tough time finding a rhythm, especially outside hitter Logan Tom.

So often, big matches like this come down to serving and serve receive. For the Americans, both Tom and Harmotto do a great job mixing their serves, and often end up on long runs. The question may be how well the USA—especially Tom and Davis—handle Brazil’s serve.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Olympics | USA 3, South Korea 1

Final Score: USA 3, South Korea 1 (25-19, 25-17, 20-25, 25-21)
It was the fourth set, and the USA women’s volleyball team was in trouble.
South Korea star hitter Yeon-Koung Kim was dominating the match. After rocky wins in the first two sets, the USA lost the third. With the Americans clinging to a 14-13 fourth set lead, middle blocker Christa Harmotto rescued a low set and slammed it for a point.
Enter Courtney Thompson.
Team USA celebrates a point during the fourth set against Korea
As she had all evening, the former University of Washington setter launched a “jumpie”: a float serve with minimal rotation. The ball dropped at the feet of the Korean defender, who barely kept it in play. After a short rally, Dae-Young Jung pushed a ball past libero Nicole Davis for another Korean point.
But Thompson—who had entered each set as part of a double-substitution—went to work. A back set to Jordan Larson for a kill. A smart defensive read to avoid a Korean attack heading out of bounds. A pair of double blocks by Harmotto and Tayyiba Haneef-Park. A Larson service ace.
After Korea broke the run, Thompson fed Harmotto with a quick set to the middle for another kill. Courtney’s former Washington teammate Tama Miyashiro entered to serve, forcing the Koreans out of system with a deep float, allowing another Haneef-Park termination block. Larson’s back-row attack from a Thompson set didn’t fall, allowing Korea to push a quick return beyond Larson’s reach. the next play, Thompson slid another quick, this time to Foluke Akinradewo for the kill.
By the time Thompson rotated back to the sidelines, she’d led her team on an 8-3 run and a 23-16 lead.
With Lindsey Berg back at setter, the Koreans won 4 of the next 5 points. But a Larson block ended the set, and the match, giving the USA its first—and tougher-than-expected win of these Olympics.
During the post-match press conference, head coach Hugh McCutcheon mentioned the late set four run:
“It was a very tough game” said McCutcheon, “and Korea made us work a lot. We did some things pretty well but I have also seen room for improvement.
“The players responded well especially after dropping the third set and they turned it around in a very good way to finish it off in the fourth set.”
Korea’s Kim led all hitters with 27 kills and 8 errors on 63 attempts (.300). Dentinee Hooker was Berg’s primary target all night, finishing with 19 kills and 4 errors on 42 attempts (.357) Larson had 14 kills (.393) while Akinradewo added 9 (.411).

Olympics | setter Lindsey Berg to retire after London

According to an article by sportswriter Anne Peterson of the Associated Press, Lindsey Berg plans to retire at the end of the London Olympics.

Berg and Courtney Thompson are the USA’s two setters. 

Berg has been on the National Team since 2003; she was also on the Olympic roster in Beijing. 

The University of Minnesota graduate from Honolulu tells Peterson “I’ve had an incredible run,” but admits “It’s not as easy as it looks.” She also reports that her knees hurt “all the time.”
USA women's volleyball team and USA men's basketball team at London Olympic opening ceremonies,
Lindsey Berg is in the back row, under the USA flag, to LeBron James' right.
Courtney Thompson is front row, three from right; Tama Miyashiro is second from right
-photo Courtesy Tayyiba Haneef-Park, via Facebook

Friday, July 27, 2012

Olympics | Tama Miyashiro's unlikely volleyball journey

Tama Miyashiro first walked into the University of Washington gym seven years ago. She was short, she was soft-spoken, she was a long way from her Hawaiian home.
The women on the UW court were bigger, older, and brimming with confidence. By the end of that 2005 season, several would be All-Americans, one would be college volleyball player of the year, and the team would win the national championship.
They barely noticed the young freshman setter, a walk-on.
“That was a pretty big learning experience for me,” Miyashiro remembers. “I’d never been on a team where you have people who are so strong—both physically and their personalities.”
She never played a minute that magical season, and was granted redshirt status, giving her four more years of eligibility. She knew she was unlikely to unseat starting setter Courtney Thompson the next season.
One fateful day in spring 2006, Washington head coach Jim McLaughlin told Miyashiro to stick around after practice.
“I served her a ball,” says McLaughlin, “and I said, now, Tama, hold your arms like this. And I served her another ball.”
“I was doing all kinds of weird things,” Miyashiro says, “‘cause I was attacking like I was still a setter or hitter at home in Hawai’i. The only actually passing or anything I had done in high school was bump setting.”
“Then,” McLaughlin continues, “I said, Tama, now put your wrist and hands together so your platform’s like this. And I served it.”
“I learned how to hold my hands,” Miyashiro remembers. “I learned straight and simple. We kind of started from the ground, and worked our way up.”
After serving dozens of balls—some hard, some soft, some deep and some short—McLaughlin ended the session. “I walked up to the office after 20 minutes. Only 20 minutes. And I said to my coaching staff, you guys, we got our libero.”
— · — · —
Hawaiian kids grow up dreaming about being volleyball Olympians the way Canadian kids dream of being hockey Olympians. Volleyball rules the Islands.
Tama’s mother, Joey, played for the beloved University of Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine. But at Kalani High School, Tama played both basketball and volleyball. Although she was only 5-7, she excelled as an outside hitter and played setter when she rotated to the back row.
Tama Miyashiro and Courtney Thompson with
young fans in Anaheim
Her senior year, she finally quit basketball, and was named MVP at the state volleyball tournament. Although she was selected statewide Player of the Year, Miyashiro had never aggressively entered the college recruiting scene.
“My cousin, who was my club coach, made me send tapes to all the Pac-10 schools. It was already late in the game; already my senior year.
“A lot of schools wrote back. But they kinda gave the sorry, we’re done with all the scholarship positions already. So, if you apply to the school and you get in, then let us know.
At Washington, McLaughlin was also out of scholarships. But he agreed when Miyashiro wanted to pay a visit to Seattle.
“We learned about her as a person,” McLaughlin says. “She’s a driven kid. She’s laid back, but she’ll compete. She’ll make improvements. She’ll do what you need to do.”
“I liked his [Jim’s] personality,” Miyashiro says. “He’s kind of even keel, and he’s not a yeller. I’ve played for a couple of coaches that are kinda the opposite of Jim, really emotional, pretty loud. So, right off the bat, I was drawn to that part of his coaching style.”
Washington’s out-of-state tuition is steep, but both Miyashiro and her parents were confident she could earn a scholarship after one year. She walked on to that national championship team, and immediately found an ally: Courtney Thompson.
“I felt a connection with how much she loved the game. How much she loved competing. How much she loved Jim. And I could tell right off the bat that I would want to play with someone like this.
“She kind of took me under her wing and showed me the ropes. She didn’t have to do that.”
Instead of competing with Thompson, however, she found herself trying to replace another legend: graduating All-American libero Candace Lee, a revered defender who was McLaughlin’s very first recruit at Washington.
Jim McLaughlin
“Candace always reminded me of the basics,” Miyashiro says. “She was always, practice your wrist and hands! That was a small gesture, but a huge message. If I keep it simple, remember the basics, all I need to do is track the ball and think about what Jim taught us. I think the more simple she kept it, the better she was. And it was a good role model for me.”
“Tama could pass frickin’ nails,” says McLaughlin. “She had a great serve; we developed that. She could dig lights out—had great eyework, got good angles on the ball. And then she could cover better than anyone in the world.”
But McLaughlin required more. Off the court, both Lee and Miyashiro were notoriously quiet. Once they stepped on the court, that had to change. Miyashiro couldn’t believe the first time she heard Lee scream during practice when a free ball headed across the net.
“At first I said, oh, my gosh. That’s coming out of that girl? And then you realize that, by her doing that, she‘s making the team better. Yes, that’s how you should call a free ball.”
McLaughlin took note.
“Tama was the coolest, nicest, gentlest kid off the court. But a fierce competitor on the court. She had perfect balance as a person. I don’t think there’s one person in the world that doesn’t like being around her.”
Miyashiro was a four-year starter, all at libero. She was repeatedly named national Defensive Player of the Year and broke Lee’s school record for career digs. McLaughlin credits her unfailing willingness to improve.
“What Tama just could do better than any kid, is learn. She was a great student of the game.”
— · — · —
At the international level, defensive players are a dying breed. The rules permit limited substitutions, so most outside hitters have to play back row rather than be substituted for defensive specialists. Some teams have begun carrying just a single defender (a libero) on their 12-person roster.
Two defenders—Stacy Sykora and Nicole Davis—had been on the 2008 Silver Medal Olympic team, and both intended to return for London. But Sykora was seriously injured in a car accident, and Miyashiro earned a spot on the traveling squad for all four stages of the 2012 World Grand Prix.
“Tama’s ability to defend is, I think, pretty unique,” says USA head coach Hugh McCutcheon. “She makes great reads and she gets in good spots and just has a way of popping the ball up.”
“One of the things Hugh preached to me early is, you just gotta work hard, work hard, work hard. Every day he was telling me, work hard. For me, I know what working hard means.”
Nonetheless, Davis wore the libero jersey at the start of each World Grand Prix round, leaving Miyashiro to come in most sets as a late serve-and-dig specialist. She never considered it an insult.
“When you go into a match like that, where you’re playing a good team and you’re kind of in a rut and they’re kind of playing well: you need to score some points.”

And score she did. In match after match, Miyashiro’s serve proved effective, and her defense raised eyebrows. When Davis suffered an injury during the final round, Miyashiro was elevated to starting libero. At several crucial junctures—especially against China—her ability to see the ball and dig off the net made all the difference.
“She can have a profound influence on the momentum of a set,” says McCutcheon.
“It was really fun to see it all come together,” she says. “And at the right time, too.”
Many observers assumed McCutcheon had decided on 11 of his 12 Olympians, with the final spot a toss-up between Miyashiro or an additional hitter, like Cynthia Barboza, Kristin Richards or Heather Bown. Miyashiro got the nod.
“As was proven in the Grand Prix Finals,” says McCutcheon, “if our libero happens to get hurt, Tama can step right into that position. On top of that, she’s a great competitor, a great teammate.”
— · — · —
The time difference between Hawai’i and London is eleven hours, almost as far as it can get. It means that Hawaiian volleyball fans will have to get up early—sometimes very early—to see the USA play.
All twelve volleyball Olympians will have hometown folks rooting for them, but it will be different in Hawai’i. They’ll be cheering wildly for two local kids: Miyashiro and Honolulu native Lindsey Berg.
Folks in Hawai’i don’t just play volleyball, they understand volleyball. And they understand what it takes for an undersized kid from the Islands to wear the USA jersey in the sport’s biggest spotlight.
So for a new generation of Hawaiian kids, Miyashiro will be a role model in a way she never dreamed when she was glued to the set watching previous Olympics. She wants those kids to know her journey was not a fluke.
“Honestly, I’ve put in a lot of time and a lot of work. And, in my heart, I think I’m getting the payoff that I deserve. That may sound a little selfish, but it’s actually what I really think.”
Selfish? Hardly. More like Olympian.

see also: 

Olympics | Complete USA Indoor Volleyball TV Schedule

The folks at NBC have made it pretty easy to watch live telecasts of indoor volleyball at the 2012 Olympic Games ... as long as you already subscribe to cable, satellite or telco TV. Here's the schedule:

2012 London Olympic Games
Indoor Volleyball Schedule

(all times/dates Pacific)

Sat, July 28
USA vs. Korea
Sun, July 29
USA vs. Serbia
Mon, July 30
USA vs. Brazil
Tue, July 31
USA vs. Germany
Wed, August 1
USA vs. China
Thu, August 2
USA vs. Brazil
Fri, August 3
USA vs. Serbia
Sat, August 4
USA vs. Russia
Sun, August 5
USA vs. Turkey
Mon, August 6
USA vs. Tunisia
Tue, August 7

Wed, August 8

Thu, August 9

Fri, August 10

Sat, August 11
Sun, August 12

If you have a cable, satellite or telephone company TV subscription that includes MSNBC and CNBC, you can access live streams of every Olympic event, including volleyball. Visit NBC’s Live Extra at www.nbcolympics.com/liveextra/.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Monday, July 23, 2012

Local Olympian Courtney Thompson powered by 2 big inspirations

Volleyblog Seattle is back from vacation (in Grand Tetons National Park).

This morning, our extended profile about University of Washington Olympian Courtney Thompson is featured on the front page of The Seattle Times ...

The article features comments from Hugh McCutcheon, Jim McLaughlin, Dawn Colston, Linda Thompson, Steve Thompson, and--of course--Courtney.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Basketball Tourney: Impressive. Volleyball Tourney: Even more so

As we celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Title IX, a notice in today’s Seattle Times caught our eye.
A girls’ basketball tournament in Kirkland, WA—called Midsummer Nights Madness—starts July 10:
  • Now in its 15th season
  • Teams from throughout the west, plus Canada and a team based in Germany
  • Grown from 35 teams in 1997 to about 100 in 2012
  • *1100 female athletes

Very impressive. And hats off to Madness founder Stan Lee and the dozens of volunteers who make something this big happen every year.
It’s another opportunity, however, to point out a fact rarely noted in the nation’s sports pages: More high school girls play volleyball in Washington state than any other sport [source: National Federation of High Schools 2010-11 Participation Survey]. [see: How popular is volleyball among high school girls?]
Action at the 2012 Emerald City Classic
-courtesy WVBA
In fact, volleyball is the most popular prep girls’ sport throughout the west, including Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Hawai’i, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming.
And—without taking anything away from basketball’s notable Midsummer Nights Madness event—the annual Emerald City Volleyball Classic at the University of Washington is mighty impressive in its own right:
  • Now in its 26th season
  • Teams from throughout the west, plus Canada and Brazil
  • Grown from 12 teams in 1976 to 201 in 2012
  • 2200 female athletes

So … even more impressive. And too often overlooked, since the annual Classic is held over Memorial Day weekend, when it competes for media attention with a slew of other sporting events. Hats off to Dave Weitl and all his Emerald City Classic volunteers.

[Full disclosure: Jack Hamann, author of this post, was a member of the Washington Volleyball Academy’s Board of Directors from 2003-09; WVBA is the Emerald City Classic organizer]

*according to Midsummer Nights Madness director Stan Lee, there are 94 teams and approximately 1100 athletes registered as of July 5. Lee says the Seattle Times was incorrectly told that there are 1800 athletes registered.

USA Men's Olympic Volleyball roster named

Donald Suxho sets David Lee
-courtesy FIVB
Those of us in the Northwest tend to focus on women's volleyball--the men's side is not a major high school or collegiate sport in our region.

But the men's game is equally exciting, and produced a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Top men also have an outsized influence on the women's game--9 coaches in the Pac-12 are men. Several--including Washington's Jim McLaughlin--have coached men at the highest levels (McLaughlin won a NCAA title with the USC men.) And the coach of the USA women's national team--which includes former UW stars Courtney Thompson and Tama Miyashiro--is Hugh McCutcheon, who led the men to that 2008 gold medal (and will be the head women's coach at Minnesota right after the London Olympics.)

This morning, USA men's head coach Alan Knipe named the members of the 2012 Olympic team:

2012 London Olympics USA National Men’s Roster


Donald Suxho
Korce, Albania
Brian Thornton
San Clemente, CA
UC Irvine


Rich Lambourne
Tustin, CA


Matt Anderson
West Seneca, NY
Penn State
Sean Rooney
Wheaton, IL
Paul Lotman
Lakewood, CA
Long Beach State
Reid Priddy
Richmond, VA
Loyola Marymount


Clay Stanley
Honolulu, HI
David McKienzie
Littleton, CO
Long Beach State


David Lee
Alpine, CA
Long Beach State
Russell Holmes
Fountain Valley, CA
David Smith
Saugus, CA
UC Irvine

  • Reid Priddy, Rich Lambourne, David Lee, Sean Rooney, and Clay Stanley were members of the 2008 Olympic team; Donald Suxho was on the 2004 team.
  • 2008 setter Lloy Ball and middle blocker Tom Hoff have retired.
  • Riley Salmon, Ryan Millar, Gabe Gardner, and Kevin Hansen were on the 2008 team, but were named as reserves for 2012.
see also:
USAV Announces Olympic Men's Volleyball Team (press release)
Two former UW All-Americans named to Olympic Volleyball team

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