Monday, August 12, 2013

National Team | USA knocks off unbeaten Serbia in World Grand Prix volleyball

Courtney Thompson provides spark, Christa Harmotto and Kelly Murphy provide power in big five-set win in Belgrade
  • #1 USA def. #9 Serbia 3-2 (25-24, 22-25, 25-17, 23-25, 15-12)
  • next: #1 USA vs. #24 Czech Republic | August 16, 2013 | Sendai, Japan

A service ace gave Serbia a 9-8 advantage. It was the fifth set, and Belgrade fans sensed an upset. USA head coach Karch Kiraly called a timeout.

“We’re exactly where we want to be,” Kiraly told his team. “Fifth set in an away gym.”

USA, including Courtney Thompson (3)  celebrates a World Grand Prix point against Serbia,
-photo courtesy FIVB 

Throughout the match, microphones and cameras captured Kiraly’s unrelentingly calm advice during time outs. “What are our strategies for getting into a positive mindset?” he asked at one point. “Deep breath? Okay, let’s do it.”

By contrast, Serbian coach Zoran Terzic seemed to grow more tense as the match wore on. He earned a rare red card at a crucial juncture in the third set, and spent all of a fifth-set timeout hectoring hitter Brankica Mihajlovic, who had just missed a serve.

Throughout the match, both teams seemed frustrated by calls from the down referee, Lybia’s Mustapha Jrad, who stopped a surprising number of rallies with net violation calls, some of them hard to detect on video replays. But elite coaches invariably teach their teams to ignore bad calls, and that was Kiraly’s strategy on Sunday.

In the fourth set, Jrad called back-to-back net violations against USA, allowing Serbia to pull within one. Middle blocker Christa Harmotto (Penn St), however, responded with a huge kill on a quick set, and later fired up her team after a phantom touch call on a block. Harmotto ended the match with 9 kills and 6 stuff blocks, many at pivotal moments.

USA's Christa Harmotto (13) and Kristen Hildebrand (10) block an attack attempt by Serbian star outside hitter Jovana Brakocevic
-photo courtesy Bill Kauffman, USA Volleyball

Harmotto is among the world’s best at a skill most coaches preach: pressing straight across the net when blocking. Opposite hitter Kelly Murphy (Florida) had a monster offensive match with 22 kills on 52% hitting. Murphy has a whip-fast arm and a keen eye for avoiding the block.

Precise serving has become a hallmark of USA this summer, as most players launch a deadly float. None was better Sunday that Kim Hill (Pepperdine) who had 2 aces amid several important serving runs. Courtney Thompson (Washington) had a big ace in the final set, and provided big sparks when setting during victories in sets one and three.

This was Serbia’s first loss of 2013’s World Grand Prix nine-match pool play; USA is also 5-1, losing only to Brazil in Brazil. USA’s final three pool matches are this weekend, and the road is a tough one. After a Friday match against Czech Republic, USA faces undefeated Japan and then Bulgaria, which upset Brazil over the weekend. The following week, the top six teams will square off for the 2013 title; USA is the three-time defending champion.

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