Monday, August 8, 2016

Olympic Games | USA roars back to beat Netherlands

Americans overcome horrible serving to stay undefeated

Women’s National Team Schedule
  • Aug 06: USA def. Puerto Rico 3-0 (25-17, 25-22, 25-17)
  • Aug 08 USA def. Netherlands 3-2 (18-25, 25-18, 21-25, 25-20, 15-8)
  • Aug 10, 11:00AM vs. Serbia
  • Aug 12, 11:00AM vs. Italy
  • Aug 14, 1:05PM vs. China
  • Aug 16 Quarterfinals
  • Aug 18 Semifinals
  • Aug 20 Medal Finals

USA libero Kayla Banwarth celebrates USA's 3-2 comeback win over Netherlands
-photo by FIVB

In the end, USA finally served tough. Just in time.

USA's Jordan Larson (10) celebrates a point
-photo by FIVB
Overcoming one of its worst serving performances of this or any other season, USA came back from a 2-1 deficit to beat Netherlands 3-2 (18-25, 25-18, 21-25, 25-20, 15-8) to stay undefeated in Olympic competition in Rio. The Dutch, who earlier upset China, fell to 1-1.

For the match, USA committed 18 service errors, including 6 by Kim Hill, and 3 each by Kelly Murphy and Rachael Adams. The only Americans without an error were Jordan Larson, who had 19 serves, and Courtney Thompson, who served once.

Here’s what stood out:
  • USA coach Karch Kiraly has all but abandoned the double-substitution in these Olympics, a weapon he has used throughout the entire quad. In the double-sub, a substitute setter and opposite enter for three rotations, allowing the Americans to keep three attackers on the front line for 9 straight rotations. Kiraly’s failure to use the subs against the Netherlands was all the more baffling because starting opposite Murphy was utterly ineffective at the service line.

  • There were two turning points in the match, both in the fourth set. Trailing early in the set, Kiraly won a video challenge that turned what would have been a four-point Dutch lead to just two. A few points later, Holland’s captain, Maret Balkestein, went down with a leg injury, never to return. Balkestein, a lefty, had 8 kills to that point, and had been both an offensive force and an emotional leader on defense. The loss of her energy seemed to dull the emotional edge Holland had established since the beginning of the match.

Dutch captain Maret Balkestein was having a sensational match against USA until she left with an injury.
-photo by FIVB
  • Netherlands’ best attacker, Lonneke Sloetjes (20 kills), all but disappeared at the end of the fourth set. Until that point, she had been Holland’s best weapon, but one hitting error led to another and then another, as she seemed unable to regain her focus. By contrast, one of Kiraly’s biggest successes with his team is its ability not to dwell on previous plays.

  • Early on, Netherlands’ serve-and-pass was far better that USA’s. As a result, setter Alisha Glass struggled throughout the first three sets, often forcing her pin hitters to push easy balls across the net. Once Balkestein went out, however, USA’s serving and passing vastly improved, allowing Glass to set with greater quickness and authority. The better serving helped the Americans put up several big blocks during the deciding fifth set. Foluke Akinradewo was particularly devastating down the stretch, on both offense and defense.

USA celebrates match point in a 3-2 win over Netherlands. The Americans face undefeated Serbia on Wednesday.
-photo by FIVB

At this level, servers must be aggressive. Otherwise, opponents will quickly pass/set/kill. USA’s service errors were consistently long—way long—which may have been failed efforts to force poor passers to reach for the ball. Kudos to Holland for not taking the bait. By the fifth set, the American servers had regained their confidence and poise, delivering 3 of their 5 service aces in the final frame.

  • Once again, the NBC/Comcast networks dropped the ball. On the main NBC channel, viewers were treated to Australia vs. Serbia in men’s basketball, followed by swimming preliminary heats. The only coverage of the USA/Netherlands volleyball thriller was on the NBC Sports App. Instead of NBC’s fine announcing team of Paul Sunderland and Kevin Barnett, we got a British commentator who—let’s be honest—was not up to Olympic standards.
  • Meantime, an analysis by the well-respected data-crunching site concludes that the best Olympic sport is … wait for it … volleyball. Even more, the site determined that viewers believe indoor volleyball is even slightly better than beach. Are you listening, NBC? Didn’t think so.
  • Earlier today, China defeated Italy 3-0 (25-21, 25-21, 25-16), and Japan beat Cameroon 3-0 (25-20, 25-15, 25-17).


  1. Jack: NBC broadcast the match during the day. It was on a delayed basis but only a few hours. Sunderland and Barnett (and Heather Cox) did the match.

    1. Thanks, Scott, for pointing this out.
      If NBC is going to offer live coverage on its NBC Sports App, that live stream should include Sunderland and Barnett.
      The problem with waiting for delayed coverage: it's too easy to see a spoiler appear on social media, etc. Networks also have a habit of trimming coverage (we now join the match in progress at the start of the third set.) Plus ... NBC's advertised daily schedule is so vague that you can never know if and when a match will actually be replayed.
      All in all, live is best, with the best announcers at the microphone.


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