Posted by: Aly Edge | 17 June 2013

Quick set: Arrivederci WordPress

This will be the last post at this URL. All future content will be found at I really didn’t want the ‘blog’ in my URL when I bought one, hence getting the .org, but my new overlords at Bloguin want me to be at a .com. So that’s the new URL. Update your bookmarks, because nothing new’s gonna come up here.

Whatever The Net Set ends up being, these first few months posting for, in essence, no one but myself here on a free blog will always have a special place for me. I’m gonna miss this dashboard a little, though I suppose I’ll still see it if and when I have the time for I’ve Got Writer’s Blog (lucky if I get 2 posts a month in over there). I think I really found my voice here, and no doubt it made me into a blogger that Bloguin want on their roster. So while I never really met anyone associated with WordPress and became only minimally involved with other blogs and the WP community, I’ll think of it fondly.

But it’s time to move on. Join The Net Set on Bloguin at !


Big sky smilin’ at me…

Oh lordy, we’re falling behind schedule on these. But let’s just do what we can. The rundown:

America East Conference
Southwestern Athletic Conference
Patriot League
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference
Big Sky Conference
Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference
Northeast Conference
Big South Conference
Colonial Athletic Association
Ohio Valley Conference
Horizon League
Western Athletic Conference
Southland Conference
Conference USA
The Summit League
Atlantic Sun Conference
American Athletic Conference
Ivy League
Southern Conference
Mid-American Conference
Sun Belt Conference
Atlantic 10 Conference
Big West Conference
Mountain West Conference
Big East Conference
Missouri Valley Conference
Atlantic Coast Conference
Southeastern Conference
Big 12 Conference
West Coast Conference
Big Ten Conference
Pac-12 Conference

So here we have our first west-coast conference (lower case). Recent expansion has had the conference add teams in California, Utah, and North Dakota. Next year, they’ll re-add charter members Idaho, but for 2013 they stand pat with the same 11 teams they had last year. The Big Sky appears to be unique in a couple of regards — they began their life as an NCAA Division II conference (or, as it was called then, “College Division”), and also that the conference does not sponsor baseball. Nearly every all-sport NCAA conference does.

The Big Sky is a strong conference in Football Championship Subdivision (along with its antecedents). Big Sky teams won the championship in 1976, 1980, 1981, 1984, 1995, 2001, and 2010. Expansions in recent years have the conference staking claim to a presence in every state west of the Rockies bar Nevada, and as far east as North Dakota. Next year, charter members Idaho will rejoin after 18 years spent in the Big West and Western Athletic Conferences, but there are no new members this year. The same 11 teams who constituted the conference in 2012 will do so again in 2013.

And here were the year-end Big Sky volleyball standings:

1. Portland State 17-3 (21-11)
2. Idaho State 16-4 (23-8)
3. Northern Arizona 15-5 (24-7)
4. Northern Colorado 14-6 (24-11)
5. North Dakota 10-10 (15-17)
6. Montana State 9-11 (15-14)
7. Sacramento State 8-12 (12-18)
8. Southern Utah 8-12 (12-20)
9. Eastern Washington 5-15 (5-26)
10. Weber State 4-16 (11-21)
11. Montana 4-16 (6-23)

Big Sky tournament hosts Northern Colorado (this was determined before the season) turned what would seem to be a few minor upsets as the #4 seed to win it, last beating Idaho State. But they were actually the highest-ranked of the top four teams in the league in the RPI rankings, and in any case all four teams were relatively close together, so none of them obviously deserved the bid over any other. They took on the #5 seeds in the NCAA tournament, which if you’ll recall were eventual national runners-up Oregon. Obviously, the Ducks won the match, but the Bears put up a respectable effort, falling (25-14, 25-19, 25-18).

The Big Sky regular season champs from a year ago, the Portland State Vikings will have the honours of hosting the tournament this year. They look like they’re in pretty good shape to be playing in that tournament on home court, as from last year to this the only major contributor they lost was outside hitter Megan Ellis, the team’s second-leading scorer a year ago. Major returners include top scorer Jaklyn Wheeler (more total kills and a higher rate than Ellis, in slightly less playing time) and setter Garyn Schlatter. Both of them were first-team all Big Sky last season, Schlatter for the third season in a row — the first Viking ever to be so named. The Vikings might also have the best libero in the conference, with Kasi Clark the only returning back-row specialist to attain all conference honours a season ago. She averaged 5.38 digs per set last year to lead the conference, and will only be a junior this fall. Portland State likewise led the conference in team defensive figures, by more than a dig per set (they also had the best attack percentage against). Blocking also looks pretty solid, with Leigh-Ann Haataja and Katie O’Brien both returning as juniors this fall after putting up over 100 total blocks each as sophomores. And Schlatter’s no slouch as a blocker either, she had 89 a season ago. This is gonna be a good team again this year, and they’ve got a core in place for 2014 as well. They could end up being good for a while.

Portland State open their 2013 season with the Northwest Challenge, as they play host to Boise State, Gonzaga, and Washington. Interestingly, this is the fourth straight year these four teams have met in a preseason invitational together — the hosting duties have changed hands each year. Portland State’s head coach is Michael Seeman, in his seventh season at the helm. The Vikings’ only two NCAA tournament appearances have come during Seeman’s tenure.

You may have noticed that I held back from calling Portland State’s Schlatter the best returning setter in the Big Sky, despite some pretty good honours and statistical output on her part. That’s because the Big Sky MVP a year ago was also a setter, and she also returns — Idaho State’s Lori Mendenhall was so named, the first Bengal in 22 years to win this award and just the second ever. Another second-in-program-history honour in 2012 was head coach Chad Teigert‘s selection as Big Sky Coach of the Year. Teigert is what you would call a program-builder — his record as head coach his first year was a meager 10-20, but it’s gotten better every year since. Last year the Bengals came agonisingly close to the NCAA tournament, losing a five-set final to Northern Colorado where they won the first two sets. Does further improvement await?

Of course, the Bengals do lose a couple of big contributors from last season to this, outside hitter Breanne Van Every and middle blocker Jaclyn Hone-Hawkins (a third departed senior got only occasional playing time last year). The team haven’t highlighted any incoming recruits, so it’s unclear who if anyone from the younger classes might step up to replace them. Tressa Lyman returns having been the team’s top scorer a year ago as a redshirt freshman, probably presaging a productive college career. Libero Kylee Searle is the other returner, besides Mendenhall, to play in every match last year, but Idaho State’s defence was only middle of the pack in the Big Sky last year. It seems someone will need to, as of the Bengals’ major strengths last year, Mendenhall’s setting is the only one that returns.

Northern Arizona use the nickname “Lumberjacks” for all their sports teams, regardless of gender. Another school to use this nickname, Stephen F. Austin State, name their female teams the “Ladyjacks.” Firefox doesn’t seem to think that’s a word, and I agree, so good on NAU.

This looks like it’s going to be a pretty lean year for the Lumberjacks. Incumbent head coach Craig Choate retired in May, leaving the team without a head coach after their spring play wrapped up. As of now, they have yet to replace him. Only two (rather young) assistant coaches are listed on the team’s website. And from last year to this, the team lost a big core of players. Five seniors graduated, and a sixth player who was listed as a sophomore last year isn’t on the roster for this year, a probable transfer (though I can’t find confirmation of that).

The team’s top scorer from last year actually does return, sophomore-to-be Janae Vander Ploeg, though what backup there is behind her seems a little bit of a question. Blocking should be solid, with Sydney Kemper and Payton Bock returning from productive 2012 campaigns. Both were all Big Sky last season, Bock first-team (the only freshman so named) and Kemper honourable mention. The question of who takes up the setting duties is an interesting one. Six-foot-two Erin Truett would likely bolster the blocking, but it bears pointing out that despite being on the active roster last season, she didn’t see any action. So the job might go to incoming freshman Jensen Barton instead. Only ten players are currently listed on Northern Arizona’s current roster, so either further freshmen or transfers are incoming, or it’s going to be a very lean year indeed.

The Bears have done pretty well for themselves since joining the Big Sky, not least last year’s NCAA tournament berth. It was their third in the past four seasons (and they’ve only been members of the conference since 2006). In some ways, it was their least likely, since they had to win three matches to do it being that they were only the #4 seed. But playing at home surely helped.

Three seniors from three different positions graduated last year. And there’s two ways of looking at that — either the team will be badly effected losing contributors in multiple areas, or they’ll survive, since other contributors remain. Time will tell. Setter Marissa Hughes, all Big Sky honourable mention, was probably the biggest loss. Currently, incoming freshman Ashley Guthrie is the only setter on the roster for this season, and running the offence all year is a tall ask of a true freshman. I imagine she’ll get backup (or be the backup) one way or another. Middle blocker Andrea Spaustat is probably UNC’s top returner, having been second-team all Big Sky last year. Fellow middle Brianna Strong also returns as a junior, to give the team a solid 1-2 punch up the gut. Backbone offence looks like it’ll be a major question mark, as those two are also the team’s top-scoring returners — no outside hitters with higher output return. Senior-to-be Alyssa Wilson will likely have to step up from her support role in 2012. One or more of sophomores Kendra Cunningham and Katie Champion or perhaps incoming recruit Cheyanne Lyons will have to do the same. Northern Colorado begin their season 30 August at home against Cal Poly.

The University of North Dakota are prohibited from taking a nickname for another two years, after the brouhaha over their previous “Fighting Sioux” moniker. This year represents an undeniable peak for the….uhh, North Dakota volleyball team. They had no seniors on their roster last year and return a remarkably large roster, 20 players deep. In their first season in the conference last year, they were middle of the road in just about everything except blocks, where they were next-from-last. Ironically, the middle is where we find the team’s one all-conference selection last year, that being Ronni Munkeby, one of four seniors this year. Of the other seniors-to-be, only one was a major contributor last year, middle blocker Lisa Parlich. Backbone offence will probably come from junior-to-be Lexi Robinson at the outside hitter position. Libero Lauren Clarke is the second-most prodigious defender in the conference to return from last season. As a freshman last year, she put up 4.28 digs per set, which head coach Ashley Hardee has said he hopes will rise to above 5 this coming season. North Dakota haven’t revealed their 2013 schedule, but Hardee did comment in the linked video that they’ll host a four-team invitational with South Dakota State and nationally ranked teams from the SEC and the Big 12, giving a nice early test to a team that look like they may be on the rise.

The Montana State Bobcats (or ‘Bobcat Spikers’ as it seems the volleyball team specifically are known) were the final team to sneak into the Big Sky tournament last year. But they’re a team in pretty major flux for next season, despite only having had two seniors last year. Middle blocker Taylar Barney and setter Jennifer Lundquist were both contributors who will be missed, but the big blow to the team’s fortunes in 2013 is the transfer of outside hitter Sarah Horton. She was first team all-Big Sky last year, leading the conference in kills per set by sizable margin, but she now heads to Boise State for her senior year.

An impressive eight-player incoming class, ranked among the best in the nation, bolsters the ranks. All but unique among NCAA women’s teams, only eight players got regular playing time last season (the ninth appeared in only about 10% of the team’s action), so it’s tough to say if any of the newcomers will see the court this fall. There are returners at every position, including Kasey Schlatter (Garyn’s kid sister) and Eli Svisco on the pins, Natalee Godfrey up the middle, and Nicole Baker as a back-row specialist. Setter Leigh Stonerook would seem to have redshirted last year, as she didn’t play even one set in her true freshman year. She will probably compete for the job with incoming recruit Anna Sykora. The Bobcat Spikers will begin their season at an invitational hosted by the University of Utah.

That would be the logo for a team called the Hornets. Don’t ask me. Sacramento State may be in for a bit of regression, as they lost six seniors off their 2012 roster, four of whom were regular contributors. That team plateaued at a level where they just missed the postseason, so that might not bode well for this year. Right-side hitter Kayla Beal returns having been second team all-Big Sky last year. She played every match and every set last year and was a very good contributor to backbone offence, but the next three highest scorers the Hornets had in 2012 are all gone. A transfer from West Virginia, redshirt freshman Kendall LaVine, will help a bit, but I’m not even sure who the next best option on the pins is, and that’s a big question mark to be carrying into the season. Lauren Aikels and Sloan Lovett return as OH’s, but their playing time last year was so limited it’s hard to extrapolate their value for 2013. Two players, a middle and an outside hitter, have signed as freshman recruits, so they may figure into the mix too. Hannah Hetinga did most of the setting last year and returns for her senior season in 2013. The Hornets were the top team in the Big Sky in blocking last year, but it’s probably a tall order to repeat that feat this coming season. Sacramento State will start their season at an invitational hosted by La Salle.

Southern Utah were the new kids on the block last year. Volleyball would have been one of the school’s first seasons in their first academic year as members of the Big Sky (having departed the Summit League effective in 2012). Four seniors departed the Thunderbird ranks after 2012, including their only two all conference selections Analaine Mailoto and Cashaana Renfro, outside hitter and middle blocker respectively. Right-side hitter Kylie Schofield is the team’s top returning scorer at a pretty pedestrian 2.17 kills per set (only Mailoto was above 3 last year, and she nearly had 4). Renfro anchored a block that was second-best in the Big Sky last year, and the mantel of leadership up the middle this year would seem to fall to Annie Stradling, who was just under a block per set last year. At 6-foot-3, she’s definitely got the physical tools to be an elite blocker. But for as strong as the front-row defence was last year, that’s how weak the back-row defence was — second from last in digs. Alissa Youart, who is listed as an outside hitter, led the club in digs individually last year, but there were a lot of players with essentially the same totals in that area. Four players join the program as incoming freshmen, including Mailoto’s younger sister Sariah Pelaez (Mailoto is married) and Joanna Christenson, younger sister of Micah Christenson, star setter of USC’s men’s team.

The Eastern Washington Eagles welcome a new-old head coach this season, as Wade Benson returns to the post having previously coached the team for a successful stint between 2000 and 2006. In the interim, he coached at Auburn. I don’t exactly guess it was his choice to leave the ACC for the Big Sky, but I imagine he’s probably happy enough to be back where he’s had success before. They’ve got a bit of a carousel in terms of their roster composition from last year to this. The team highlight outside hitter Melissa Waelter as an incoming transfer from South Alabama, and also have three incoming juco transfers, all of them from the nation of Serbia. Two of them, outside hitter Stanka Panic and setter Milica Nisavic, are in fact childhood friends. The team also lose a transfer, sending setter Britta Forsythe to Grand Canyon University.

Middle blocker Talia Fermantez is the team’s top returner in terms of playing time, playing in all but two matches in and all but ten sets. Sophomore outside hitter Allie Schumacher, seeing action in about three-fourths of the team’s matches and sets, is the top returning scorer having posted an even 200 kills last year. Naturally, with a team this low in the order, none of the numbers are all that impressive, but with lots of returners and some experienced transfers, there may be room to grow. Eastern Washington begin their season at an invitational hosted by the University of Oregon on 30 August.

For whatever it’s worth, Weber State were probably a little bit lucky to avoid finishing in the cellar in 2012. They were at the bottom of pretty much every statistical ranking in the Big Sky last season. They were notably weak in back-row defence, and have taken steps to try to address that, signing two juco transfers at the libero position. Another notable transfer is outside hitter Samantha Staker, who spent her freshman year last year with BYU.

There were two exceptions to the Wildcats’ tendencies to find themselves at the back of the pack in the Big Sky last year — serving and blocking. They were upper-third in both. Audrey Gee led the team and was solidly fifth in the conference last year in blocks per set, notching 1.18. Rebecca Fuchs returns having been second on the team in aces with 26, but more importantly having started every match last year and played all but one set. She also led the team in scoring output, albeit at a meager 2.74 kills per set. Both were freshmen last year and will likely improve this year. With setter Caitlin Penrod gone to graduation, the setting duties fall to Whitney Hunt, who played in all but one match last year but accrued no significant statistics (about an assist and a half per set). Middle blocker Briana Wilms and back-row specialist McKay Tarbox (like the name) are also among the returners who saw solid playing time in 2012.

Lastly in 2012 were the Montana Grizzlies. They were led middle blocker Brooke Bray last season, she of 1.26 blocks per set (equal second-best in the conference and best among anyone returning for 2013). She also posted a very good scoring output for a middle, just under two and a half kills per set, and was also equal second-best in attacking percentage. Much like Weber State, and much as you could guess from their finishing position in the standings, Montana State were pretty close to the bottom in most statistical areas last year. The team lose their biggest scorer from a year ago, Kayla Reno, so junior-to-be Kelsey Schile will have to ratchet up her production, as will the underclassmen behind her. The team have taken on a five-player recruiting class, which was spaced out over three announcements (three links there). Montana begin their season on 30 August (going to be a very busy day) at an invitational hosted by the University of Virginia.

The verdict

Other than the top of the mountain, I see a heck of a lot of flux in this conference. Lots of teams who peaked a season ago, and some more who maybe weren’t so glad last season but have a real chance to be this year considering they have experienced returners. With six of the 11 teams making the season-end Big Sky tournament, it’s anybody’s NCAA tournament bid until the final match point falls.


1. Portland State
2. North Dakota
3. Idaho State
4. Montana State
5. Northern Colorado
6. Southern Utah
7. Eastern Washington
8. Northern Arizona
9. Sacramento State
10. Weber State
11. Montana

Posted by: Aly Edge | 16 June 2013

FIVB World Tour The Hague — Crowning Champions

Time to hand out some hardware. The FIVB’s “Windy City” stop rolled to a close today, starting first with the lone match of the day featuring a Dutch team. It had the largest and, by far, most boisterous crowd of the day.

Holtwick/Semmler vs. Van der Vlist/Wesselink

The commentator noted that despite winning the coin toss, Holtwick and Semmler elected to serve first rather than receive first. I thought this seemed a curious choice, not that it was too likely to matter in the end. Katrin Holtwick proved me decidedly wrong by serving into the wind and nonetheless notching an ace. Ilka Semmler added a couple of victorious rallies on her serve in advance of the side change at 4-3 in favour of the Germans. You had to figure they came into this match favoured, being multiple former FIVB medallists, as opposed to the Dutch who were playing for a medal for the first time in their careers (individually or as a team).

On 4-3, the Germans scored a kill that was a little bit contentious. Wesselink gave it the old fist-bump as the ball fell in. Then as the point went the other way, both of them walked over to the line and lifted it with their feet. Not pleased with the call, to say the least. That flipped a switch, as Holtwick and Semmler ran out to 7-3 at the Dutch team’s timeout. The run extended to 9-3 before Van der Vlist finally found the sand to get the sideout. At 10-4, after the side change, another swing from Van der Vlist landed in almost exactly the same place the protested German kill from a few points earlier did. The flagger proved himself consistent — he called that shot in, too. The Germans extended to 13-6 on an over-dig that flew long, but Wesselink mistakenly tried to play it, and grazed it with her fingers. They made it an 8-point set behind some fine blocking by Semmler, ending with a kill for her as well. The technical timeout came at 14-7.

Fashion alert (which I do believe have been few and far between this tourney) — the Germans wore short-sleeved Under Armour and long tights and long bottoms, while the Dutch players wore their regular bikinis. One team used to the breezy days in den Haag, the other not. The bundled-up Germans pressed their advantage in the second section of the first set and reached set point at 20-10, converting for a 21-12 final.

The Dutch gals held a tenuous lead very early on in set 2, and expended their timeout upon losing it at 5-4. They trailed 8-6 at the second side change, but the Germans weren’t executing quite as well in the second set as they were in the first. The rally ending 9-8 was easily the best of the match, as both Dutch players had to hit the sand — twice — to keep a ball alive, and still Van der Vlist got the kill. That got the crowd back into it a little, but Semmler’s block on 10-8 following the German sideout quieted them again. The Dutch team had a chance to get back within a point at the midway timeout, digging a smash shot from Holtwick, but Van der Vlist’s set for a would-be return by Wesselink was much too close to the net, and Semmler easily came up with another block.

The rally ending 14-10 was another good one, this one going the way of the Germans. Both sides showed blocking strength, but in the end the Dutch girls were left just a little off-balance, as the ball fell in. The rally ending 15-11 ended with a joust. The ball landed out on the Germans’ side (meaning it would be their point if the ball were ruled off the Dutch, which is what happened), but it looked like it hit the antenna first, as it kind of rolled on top of the net before falling. Tough point to call, but no one really seemed to mind how it ruled. Just like in the first set, the Germans pulled away toward the end, and attained Hague bronze with an unforced error by Jantine Van der Vlist to make it a 21-14 final.

Fijalek/Prudel vs. Huber/Seidl

This was already the second bronze final of the season for the erstwhile Huber and Seidl, after their stunning run to Fuzhou bronze as the #32 seeds to open the year. Enough performances like this, and they won’t have to sweat the qualifiers much longer. Their opponents, the Poles, have to their credit two FIVB silvers and two bronzes, including one bronze last season.

Some early strong play from Seidl at the net, scoring blocks and effective soft-blocks alike, led to the Austrians attaining the early lead. On the rally ending 3-2, as he and Prudel both landed after their leap, he came down with his right foot on Prudel’s left. Both of them kinda winced for a moment, but they shared a quick handshake and play continued. The next serve by the Poles flew long, but only after Huber pulled a downright Matrix move to get out of the way. Hope that sand is a soft landing! Seidl was assessed a yellow-card a little later on what seemed like a quick trigger by the up referee, as he jaw-jacked a little over a non-call of Fijalek touching the net (which replays showed would have been a proper call). But I guess there’s something to be said for laying down the law. A block for Seidl broke a string of sideouts to make it 10-7 in the Austrians’ favour. Just that quickly, though, Prudel showed some impressive extension to get a couple of blocks on his side’s serve to claw it back to 10-all. Then the Austrians curiously called time, just one ahead of the technical.

The surely well-rested teams, having enjoyed two timeouts on either side of one rally, came back on the court with the Austrians up a point. They made it back to a 2-point lead with Huber coming up with a dig and a perfect roll-shot for a kill to the unguarded right-back portion of the Poles’ court. Prudel’s block a little later made it even once more at 14-all on the fourth side change. He showed some terrific body control in reaching as high as he did without netting (which he didn’t this time). Fijalek came up with an excellent serve on 16-15 to lead to an overpass for Prudel to gobble up, giving the Poles the 2-point lead. The next rally was long, with the ball crossing the net a few times. It ended with some very smart defence by Fijalek, to be in just the right place at the right time (you don’t even have to make eye-popping plays when you play smart) and giving his partner a solid set for the kill. Seidl attempted a cut shot on the next rally, but it failed to clear the net. A service error gave the Austrians their sideout, but the damage was done, and the Poles claimed set 1 21-18.

Set 2 started off with a few entertaining rallies. The very first involved Seidl trying to play what you might call a roll-hook shot. He didn’t quite put enough oomph on it, as it failed to clear the net. A little later, the last four points prior to the side change were all won without rally. It went service error-service error-ace-service error, the run favouring the Poles. Their lead extended to 3 at 7-4, but they kinda gave one back in a silly way. Facing serve on 7-5, Fijalek made the pass, rather than Prudel. Prudel tends to be the offensive player on the team and Fijalek the defender, inasmuch as you can have a clean separation between the two roles in beach volleyball. Prudel’s set for Fijalek’s attack was fine, but Seidl was easily the better of him on the block. Then on the next rally, Prudel passed to afford himself the hit opportunity — and he had no trouble at all getting through Seidl. It’s pretty clear what the best course of action for each side was.

The Poles led only 11-10 on serve at the halfway point, but they asserted themselves between side changes 3 and 4. The Austrians expended their timeout at 16-12, on the fourth change. Prudel was proving just a little too much for Seidl (who is only 23) to handle at the net. The run extended to 18-12 before the Austrians sided out, all but putting the bronze medals around the Poles’ necks. The Austrians got as close again as 18-15, but the elastic snapped there, and the second set final was 21-16.

Maria Clara/Carolina vs. Talita/Taiana

And now we get ready for a heavy dose of Team Brazil. This all-Brazil gold final was obviously a big triumph for that nation, and with Maria Clara and Carolina’s brother Pedro playing with Bruno in the men’s final to follow, it was all set to be a remarkable for Brazil and their fans. However many or few of them there may have been in The Hague.

Despite these feeds being the massively-easier-to-follow kind with multiple cameras and, as mentioned, a commentator, the onscreen scoreboard for it is kind of ridiculous. It just gives the nation, nothing more. Whiiiiich is sorta useless for a match between two teams from the nation. It does also show uniform colours, but that’s several steps to have to take to get information that could be and should be (and usually is) much more accessible

After an even exchange to start off with, the Salgado sisters began to edge ahead at about the second side change thanks to some sterling defence by Carolina. They continued to sideout effectively, and unforced errors from Taiana kept their side from making any progress. It was a 3-point set at the technical timeout following one of those errors. Coming in, Talita and Taiana probably would have had to be considered the favourites — they’ve got gold in their pockets from this season, and Talita individually is by far the most decorated of the four players individually. But in one of those classic ‘game of inches’ matches, it didn’t play out that way so much.

An unforced error by Maria Clara this time brought Talita and Taiana back to within a point at 14-13, and they attained the equaliser a point later as the Salgados were pretty well out of system on both offence and defence. Another cringe-inducing attack error from the Salgado sisters made it 15-14, and they called timeout there. On the next rally, the Salgados got away with another kind of ugly play, as Maria Clara’s set was too close to the net, but Carolina was able to block Talita’s attempt at the net, which found the sand on the other side. Talita’s kill on the next rally, rather remarkably her first of the match, gave them a 2-point lead. She followed that up with a service ace to make it 18-15. Taiana came up with an ace on the first serve after the fifth side change, and Talita sealed it 21-16 with a block at the net.

Taiana really came out on fire in set 2, playing some absolutely brilliant defence on a few of the first rallies. The Dutch fans, who pretty much sat on their hands during the men’s bronze final, gave her a boisterous round of applause after the rally ending 4-2 when she seemed to come out of nowhere at least twice for sprawling digs. She of course finished the point off herself as well. Talita honestly did little to pull her own weight, but she did come up with a nice block when Carolina set her sister too close to the net on the rally ending 7-4. The 8-5 rally was a very long one, probably close to a minute in length. Both sides looked exhausted as the rally finally ended, with a kill for Taiana off the block and out. On the next rally, she made her first attacking error since early in set 1, missing a pretty wide open court on a right-side angle shot. Talita’s block on the next rally made it 11-6, and the rout was on.

The margin was 13-8 at the technical timeout, and give the Salgados credit, they played their hearts out, but they just couldn’t measure up with Talita and Taiana. I don’t think anyone in the world would have. They started to look a little like deer caught in the headlights in the points that followed the halfway point, with a couple of kills and a couple of aces for Taiana making it a 9-point match at 17-8. Talita and Taiana reached match point at 20-12. Taiana served, and missed the storybook ending of sealing it with an ace. She very nearly got a storybook ending anyway with some more absolutely sterling defence, but the Salgados did get one sideout. No matter — Talita’s kill on the next rally ended it 21-13.

The champions gave a brief interview after their win. Talita doesn’t speak great English and it would seem that Taiana doesn’t speak it at all (she didn’t say anything).  She said she wants the team to do even better in the future than this week. Seriously, chica? Not a lot of room for improvement. But I guess it’s motivation.

Smedins/Samoilovs vs. Pedro/Bruno

And now the Latvians had the chance to match Talita and Taina as two-time gold medallists on the season. For their part, it was the third straight tourney where Pedro and Bruno played for a medal, coming runners-up in Shanghai and fourth in Corrientes.

But Smedins and Samoilovs were a little out of system to begin the match. Their lack of execution coupled with some immense blocks and block touches by Pedro (and a HULK SMASH from Bruno) led to the Brazilians going up four at 8-4. Samoilovs got a couple back before the side change, showing some versatility with a nice smash of his own to make it 8-5 and then a display of hang time and touch to redirect Bruno’s roll shot and make it 8-6. Bruno’s unforced error, wide, made it 8-7 on the first rally after the change, and the Brazilians called time there. Despite a nice run, Smedins and Samoilovs were still bickering at each other a little as they hit their bench area.

The Brazilians came out well after the timeout, going on a run to go back up by three at the technical thanks in large measure, again, to Pedro’s blocking. They had a shot to make it five on the 12-8 rally, but Bruno’s last return curiously didn’t come close to clearing the net. Didn’t look like all that hard of an opportunity, and Pedro definitely looked displeased as the teams headed to their benches again. The Latvians then ran it back even at 14-all, lastly behind a couple of bad points on the Brazilian side. On the 14-12 rally, Bruno’s set to Pedro was way too wide, giving him only one shot he could play. That made Smedins’ block pretty easy pickings.

Then on 14-13 came a contentious point. It looked like Pedro had gotten the kill, but he was instead whistled for a net fault. He was not happy about it, and loudly protested. The up referee calmly explained the rule, that both he and the down ref had seen Pedro come into contact with both the net and the opponent, which apparently was what caused the fault (he said it’s a new rule….certainly I’ve never heard anything like that before). He then calmly but firmly instructed Pedro to return to play, which he did. No need for a yellow card.

The Brazilians quickly put it behind them, taking two to go up 16-14 and prompt the Latvians’ timeout. Then on 18-16 came another contentious point, again going against Pedro. And he again protested. This time he did get yellow-carded, but this time though it looked like he may have had a point, as the Latvians seemed to touch the net first. Smedins in fact kept a hold of the net for a good 6 or 7 seconds after the rally ended. Antennae were flying, it was kind of a weird visual. But play did resume. The two sides traded sideouts to Brazil’s set point at 20-18. Latvia got the sideout, but Smedins served Pedro on Brazil’s reception set point, and the big man got the job done to give the set to Brazil 21-19.

Early in set 2, there was a contentious call that went against the Latvians, showing the officials to be nothing if not impartial. Samoilovs wanted a touch called on a long hit, and he was not obliged. From the 4-3 relative stalemate at side change number one, the Brazilians took four straight in advance of the Latvians’ timeout. They got just about every kind of point other than service ace — a block, an unforced error, a big kill by Pedro. The Latvians started their comeback from down 9-4, getting the sideout at the second side change and then a couple of errors by Bruno — one blocked and one simply missed. On his third try in as many rallies, he got his team their sideout. At that point, the Latvians again started to look pretty out of system, with Bruno coming up with two big spikes and Bruno just obliterating Samoilovs at the net. It was 13-8 at the technical.

At the bench area, you could pretty well sense the iciness in the air between the two Latvians. Cameras did show that they had some fans — or at least some people in the stands who had bought or brought a Latvian flag — but over the rest of the match, they didn’t come much close than they were at the technical. The Brazilians were just better in every facet, Pedro’s big blocking, Bruno’s terrific nonscoring defence, serving, hitting, all of it. Even when Samoilovs did occasionally break through the block, he was nowhere near as demonstrative as he sometimes is. Pedro finished off the match on his own serve with a block at the net, on 21-12, and he roared in triumph.

The men’s champs also gave a short interview after the match. Pedro spoke a little better English than Talita, and he gave your basic thanks everybody/the fans are awesome spiel. He also noted that it’s the first win of Bruno’s career and the first for Pedro since 2008, with several gold finals since. Just like Taiana earlier, Bruno didn’t speak, so I wonder if he speaks any English at all.

Heck of a tournament, and certainly an entertaining final. And now we do it all again in Rome.

Posted by: Aly Edge | 15 June 2013

A few words on The Hague, day four

I’ve got to completely honest — the matchups in this round really didn’t interest me much. I’ve also been battling a fever, so for one of the last times I’ll let myself do this (e.g. before the Bloguin move), I give you a deliciously half-arsed post.

Because I did, y’know, watch what I could. I can offer a few thoughts about some of the matches. The first slates of matches weren’t webcast, so the first I was able to try to watch was Gibb/Patterson vs. Pedro/Bruno. It was kind of a rough week for the Americans. Gibb and Patterson were the only ones to get this far, men’s or women’s side. And their performance here ensured that there would be no medal heading back to the USA this week. The first set was tight, one of those classic ‘game of inches’ beach volleyball sets, with the Brazilians edging their way to 21-18. The second most decidedly was not. It was more one of those classic beach volleyball sets where one team is substantially better than the other, although that’s probably not the case. A 21-10 whoopin’ in the second set let Jake and Spiker join their countrymen and women in sightseeing over the rest of the weekend.

Next up were Keizer/Van Iersel vs. Talita/Taiana. Two Dutch teams made it this far, and these two were the #1 tournament seeds. But you probably had to favour Talita and Taiana in this one, and they sure did play like favourites. This match in fact had the same score as the last one — (21-18, 21-10) — as Talita’s blocking was the major difference, and how. Keizer and Van Iersel did well to keep it as close as they did in set 1, even getting four straight service aces at one point, but they just weren’t enough in the end. A lot of Dutch fans gathered for this one, and they left unhappy.

But they didn’t have far to go, as over on the outer court Van der Vlist/Wesselink vs. Cicolari/Menegatti was going on. I think the crowd played a role in this one, because oh my word there were a lot of people present. Previously, when watching outer court matches, you could hear the crowd but not see them. And fair play, because the single fixed camera was behind one end rather than being situated perpendicular to the net — I wouldn’t want to sit or stand in an area where you could really only see one team, either. But for this match, especially toward the end, there were a great deal of fans visible, and any team Van der Vlist and Wesselink scored, they roared their approval. Cicolari and Menegatti are no spring chickens — they are London Olympic alumnae — and they were also playing their best volleyball of the season this week, but such an atmosphere as this would intimidate almost anyone. The Italian team won set 2 solidly but were a lot less crisp in set 3, as more and more fans came to the court 2 area. It’s probably not really that simple, but, hey, correlation. The final was (21-13, 18-21, 15-10).

Next up was Huber/Seidl vs. Smedins/Samoilovs. Despite the fact that both of these teams have FIVB medals this season, you had to view this as a pretty slanted mismatch. The men’s knockout draw ended up being kinda weird — the quarterfinals on one side of the bracket were #10 vs. #18 and #11 vs. #22, while on the other side it was #2 vs. #7 and #4 vs. #5. This was 10 vs. 22 right here, and the Corrientes champions were more than equal to the task of the Fuzhou bronze medallists, dispatching them pretty quickly (21-12, 21-14). I do like Huber and Seidl, but they lucked out a bit to make it this far, and I’m not expecting much of them tomorrow in the bronze final. Of course, I said the exact same thing in Fuzhou, so file this one under “that’s why we play the games.”

The Pedro/Bruno vs. Fijalek/Prudel match decided their opponents for the bronze final. It’ll be the Poles, as Pedro and Bruno won won what ended up being a laugher, (21-13, 21-16). I might have expected a little bit more from the Poland team, but Pedro and Bruno were sharp and on-form. The win meant Pedro was able to join his sisters Maria Clara and Carolina to play on the final day for the second tourney in a row, as the Maria Clara/Carolina vs. Holtwick/Semmler match went to the Brazilian tandem. This match was sort of a strange one, the (21-12, 13-21, 15-13) telling the story you think it does. Credit to both sides for making adjustments after two pastings to make the race to 15 a tight one. Tomorrow in the bronze final, the Germans will face the last remaining Dutch team, as the Talita/Taiana vs. Van der Vlist/Wesselink match went to the Brazilians pretty convincingly, (21-14, 21-13). The big difference, again, was Talita’s blocking.

So that gives us bronze finals of Van der Vlist/Wesselink vs. Holtwick/Semmler (it’s the Dutch team’s first time playing for a medal — it’s also the first match of the day, so hopefully the home fans will still be there in force to cheer them on) and Fijalek/Prudel vs. Huber/Seidl. The gold finals are Talita/Taiana vs. Maria Clara/Carolina and Pedro/Bruno vs. Smedins/Samoilovs. With only four matches tomorrow, I’ll do a better job writing them all up. Should be a great final day in den Haag.

Posted by: Aly Edge | 14 June 2013

FIVB World Tour The Hague, Day Three

Naturally, since yesterday featured a schedule unique to this season’s events to date, so too does today. Today both the men and women play the first and second rounds of the tournament’s knockout stage — and that’s all. The women took to centre court first, naturally with a match featuring a homestanding Dutch team.

Borger/Büthe vs. Sinnema/Stiekema

The streams were a touch late getting started, so I joined this match about halfway through the first set. Despite the weather in den Haag being considerably sunnier than either yesterday or the day before, both teams still wore their cold-temperature underclothes. Bright doesn’t always mean warm. This match looked to be an immensely even encounter. As I jointed, the Dutch team had a scant 2-point lead. That held up through a string of sideouts until the Germans got one on serve to equalise at 17-all. So it continued sideout after sideout once more until the Dutch set point on 20-19, which they converted with a big block. They were audibly quite pleased — the 12 or so people in the stands, somewhat mutedly, if so.

The Germans scored the first two in set 2, but the Dutch responded in a hurry, prompting a timeout before even the first side change as they took the next four straight. The Germans quickly equalised at 4-all, and then it was sideout after sideout once more. Borger and Büthe started to pull away a little at 8-all, coming up with four on serve before a service error gave the Dutch team their sideout. It came at the technical, 12-9. Suddenly, the German team showed a dominance neither side had to that point, and in particular at the net. Behind strong (and smart) blocking play, they ran the score all the way to 19-10 before Sinnema and Stiekema finally sided out. Set point came not long after, with 21-11 the final.

Set 3 was an even exchange like the opener. It tied at 5-all after two side changes, and the deadlock continued to the third and fourth changes as well. Finally in the fifth slate-of-five, the Dutch team ran out ahead, attaining match point at the fifth side change. 14-11 was a long rally, ending with a kill and win for the Dutch team. And suddenly, the crowd seemed a little louder.

Alison/Emanuel vs. Nicolai/Lupo

Another interesting aspect of the scheduling today is that there was no clean separation between men’s and women’s play like there normally is. While this match was going on on the outer court, a women’s match (USA vs. NED) took to centre court. I found this matchup to be quite a bit more interesting.

The Italians took the first two points of the match on Lupo’s serve, thankfully not the sky-high serve he’s used in the past (I’m still wondering what in the name of Cthulu the point of that serve is). And then, at once, it was an even exchange of points. Lots of quick rallies, neither side really threatening to score on serve. The 7-5 rally broke the pattern, as Alison sprawled out for a dig/set to Emanuel who got the kill on 2. On 8-7, it looked as if Alison and Nicolai might both have been guilty of carrying faults, as they jousted above the net. The point went to Alison to draw the set even at 8-all, but just as quickly the Italians re-established their lead. The Brazilians called time after a long hit from Alison made it in 11-8 in Nicolai/Lupo’s favour. The margin held to the halfway timeout at 12-9.

It looked like the Italians were going to run away with it at one point, running all the way to a 17-12 advantage. Alison and Emanuel pulled back a couple of points but still faced set point at 20-16. They converted their reception point and then rattled off three on serve to send us to extras, last a super-strong smash by Alison at the net that rebounded off Nicolai and out. That prompted a timeout from the Italians. The timeout only iced Nicolai at the net, as his long hit handed set point to Alison and Emanuel. The run continued unabated, as Alison converted against Nicolai at the net once more, giving the set to the Brazilians, much to someone’s audible delight in the unseen crowd.

The Italians weren’t fazed, claiming the early lead in set 2. The Brazilians had a  shot to knot the set at 5’s shortly after the first side change, but the long rally went to the Italians on reception. Emanuel’s hat came off in the midst of the rally, and he very nearly tripped over it later in the play. On serve at 6-4, Lupo again uncorked one of his weird little moonballs. It worked well enough on this instance — it led to a point for his side — but I still don’t understand the strategic value of a serve like that. On 9-6, Emanuel made one of those plays that reminds you he’s a legend. Diving at a bad pass, going straight at the net, he nonetheless managed to come up with a perfect set for Alison on the left side. But the Italians kept siding out, and added a couple on serve in advance of the halfway timeout at 13-8.

And then the feeds decided to be stupid again. It’s unfortunate being at the mercy of such a fickle mistress. The stream came back right as Alison slammed home match point in the 3rd at 15-11. The Italians had held on to their second set lead, but only just barely, winning by the same score the Brazilians had in set 1.

Herrera/Gavira vs. Nummerdor/Schuil

Generally, I disfavour yo-yoing between the courts, but this tournament’s schedule was conducive to it, budgeting time between one match and the one that followed it such that everybody pretty much started when they were meant to. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of Nummerdor/Schuil, and likewise to them, this was the first tournament of the season for the Spanish team of Herrera/Gavira as well. They’re also a team of London Olympic alumni, with Herrera even more experienced and decorated than that (Olympic silver in Athens along with a European championship). The stage was definitely set for a good match.

It was a little while in the first set before there was an actual rally. Herrera opened the match with a service error, and Schuil followed with an ace and then an error of his own. The Dutch veterans led 4-3 on reception at the side change, but the Spaniards didn’t take long to negate this, taking their first lead at 6-5. Schuil made the Spanish block look a little silly on the rally ending 7-all, skying like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for a hook shot (Schuil is by far the tallest of the four players in this match). He made them look silly again on the rally ending 10-9 in the Dutch team’s favour, with a two-handed rejection that was less a block than simply a push-back. The Dutch team led 11-10 on serve at the technical.

Nummerdor and Schuil attained a little separation between the technical and the fourth side change, gaining the match’s first 3-point advantage at 15-12. It was not to last, as the Spanish team went on a run of their own after the fourth change, prompting the Dutch boys to call time down 17-16. It was timely — Gavira’s serve coming back found nothing but net, and then Nummerdor’s kill on his serve put the Dutch team up a point again. Herrera had a brief chat with the up official about something prior to the side change at 18-17. Not really sure what. Nummerdor and Schuil reached set point at 20-19,  but could not convert. At 20-all, Schuil played nifty shot on 2, catching the Spaniards by surprise to bring up another set point. This one did go to the Dutch team, as the hit from across the net landed just wide.

Nummerdor and Schuil took the early lead in set 2, with a hitting error from the Spanish and then some nifty transition play of their own putting them ahead 5-2 at the first side change. Herrera got one point back with a block at the net, and Gavira got the other back with an ace seconds later. Despite the small swings, this was a pretty classic ‘game of inches’ beach volleyball set. The Dutch team took an inch to try to make it a mile, leading 11-10 on reception at the technical.

And the Spaniards clawed and fought. There was no ‘run’ to point to, but by the time it was time to change sides again, they’d equalised at 14-all. Another on serve after the change gave them a lead for the first time in a while. Nummerdor and Schuil had a chance to get the lead back on their serve at 15-all, and I hate to say it — but I think a younger team might have done it. Nummerdor was flat on his belly having dived to save a rough pass, and Schuil’s attempt to set him was a little tight to the net. I was mildly surprised the Spanish blocker (Herrera, I think) didn’t try to slam it home, but he didn’t really have to. The ball fell harmlessly before Nummerdor could get up.

The Dutch called time down 17-15, and then came up with a remarkable equaliser two points later. Schuil soft-blocked the Spanish hit, but Nummerdor still had to dive to just barely get the dig. Schuil then almost absentmindedly flipped a free ball over with one hand — a free ball that fell in. That got a rousing cheer from the crowd, but Herrera and Gavira sided out on the next rally and got a couple on serve after the side change to reach set point at 20-17. They converted, but I’m really not sure how. Nummerdor’s hit appeared to go into the block, which then soared high and landed out on the opposite side. For some reason, the point still went to the Spaniards.

Nummerdor and Schuil again took an early lead in set 3, but again it didn’t last very long. It was 5-all at the second side change. Then on 7-6, Herrera and Gavira played a great point. The dig of Nummerdor’s swing went pretty far wide, but Herrera tracked it down and set Gavira perfectly for a shot that snuck in left-back on the Dutch side. Down 8-6, the Dutch team called time. It did nothing to get the Spaniards out of rhythm, as it was almost immediately 9-6 on the serve. The Dutch team did (barely) manage to legally return the serve, but they did not dig the subsequent attack. The first rally after the side change, on 9-6, was a long one, at last ending with a roll-shot kill for Nummerdor. The shorter of the Dutch pair followed this up with a service ace of his own, and it was time for the Spaniards to call timeout.

Schuil made a bit of a mistake on the first play after the timeout. Nummerdor’s serve elicited an overpass, which just….fell in. Schuil, who was tight at the net at the time, didn’t appear to attempt to go for it. But he got a big cheer from the home fans for his block on the rally ending 11-all, as this one most definitely went down to the wire. Herrera and Gavira had a shot to get the point back on the 12-11 rally, as the ball crossed the net a few times, but Nummerdor’s terminating swing to again tie the set ensured the fans would have something to cheer about. On 13-12, Schuil’s hit from the right pin was ruled to cross outside of it, giving the Spaniards match point.

Their attempt on service flew long, and they did not convert on reception either, as Nummerdor’s big kill sent us to extras. He got another kill on 14-all to give his side match point, and the crowd were loving it! The Spaniards staved off this match point, to necessitate a sixth side change, and then the next as well on 16-15. From 16-all, the two sides traded service errors. A seventh side change came with the Dutch up 18-17, but they didn’t convert that match point, either. A smart roll shot from Nummerdor gave them another match point on 19-18, but the Spaniards again saved it. Nummerdor and Schuil made the risky choice of letting a serve go on 19-all, but it did land ever so slightly long, giving them match point once again on 20-19. And it really looked like they had it — Gavira’s pass went badly wide, leading Herrera to have to dive for it. Which he did, and he came up with a picture-perfect set, which Gavira hit home for the kill.

Following the eighth side change, at 20-all, the Dutch were gifted another match point with Gavira’s wide serve, but they yet again failed to convert. On 22-21, the Spanish serve reception was again a little dodgy. This time, they couldn’t bail themselves out, and at just shy of an hour in total length, Nummerdor and Schuil finished off a three-set thriller with a stuff block at the net.

Dalhausser/Rosenthal vs. Gabathuler/Weingart

Of course that match going as long as it did put centre court a little behind schedule. Thankfully, though I had a compelling team (if not a compelling match) to watch without switching.

And to be sure, this first set was every bit the mismatch one would have expected it to be. It’s the first time in four tournaments that Dalhausser and Rosenthal haven’t fast-tracked to round 2 of the knockout stage, so I had felt yesterday that whatever team of plebes that drew them were probably going to be in over their heads. And so these Swiss were early on. Dalhausser’s menacing presence at the net seemed just a little too much for them to deal with, whether it was in terms of actual scoring blocks or simply in terms of forcing shots with too much angle or pace on them that inevitably landed wide or long.

The Americans led by a touchdown when Gabathuler and Weingart called time, 10-3, and they quickly reached another football score (14-3) with the Swiss unable to do much of anything about it. They did finally get the sideout there, and even added one on serve, but evident to say — the damage was done. If the Americans let off the gas a bit to permit the Swiss to close to within 15-6 at the technical, they put the hammer down once more following it. A fourth side change was just barely necessary, as the Americans finished it off on 21-8. Yow.

Suffice it to say, Gabathuler and Weingart put up much more of a fight in set 2. They led 8-6 at the second side change. They expanded their lead to 10-7 shortly afterward, signifying a pretty remarkable reversal of fortunes from set 1. Rosenthal and Dalhausser set to peeling back the deficit, closing to within a point at the technical. The Swiss maintained their sideout advantage, even facing down Dalhausser’s block at the net on 14-13 (the Thin Beast — who interestingly enough was born in Switzerland — was called for a net fault).

Finally, the Americans equalised on 15-all, with the Swiss attempt at a roll shot failing to clear the net. On the Swiss serve at 17-16, it looked for a moment like they might get the sideout advantage back, but Dalhausser came up with a great set from flat on his belly which Rosenthal snuck home in left-back on the other side. The Americans took their first lead of the set at 18-17, but the Swiss got the equaliser and then a let-ace to go back up a point. They reached set point at 20-19, and converted on their second attempt. It’s quite a thing to come back and win a set after being demolished in the first.

The Americans re-asserted themselves in the decider, taking the first three points for an almost instant advantage. I was impressed with their synergy and versatility on the rally ending 3-0, as Dalhausser wound up getting the kill off a good set from Rosenthal — usually their ‘system’ is just the opposite. They extended their lead to 5-1 after the side change when the Swiss were called for a double, but Rosenthal gave the point back with a seemingly pretty avoidable hitting error on the rally ending 5-3.

The Swiss kept it tight at the second change, 6-4, and you can be sure Phil and Sean weren’t counting their chickens just yet. Gabathuler and Weingart drew equal at 7-all, and the score remained tied at the fourth side change. Dalhausser broke the deadlock on the Americans’ serve at 11-10 with a dandy one-handed block to give his side the sideout advantage. On 12-11, Dalhausser took a bit of a chance setting Rosenthal as the latter fell to the sand (rather than just sending it over on 2 himself). It proved to be the right call, as Sean scampered to his feet and got the kill. Leading 13-12 on reception at the fifth side change, the Americans called time.

Any attempt to ice the server was fruitless. The Swiss drew even at 13’s on their first serve after the timeout. A subsequent error did hand the Americans their first match point at 14-13, but that was not the end of it. The 14-13 rally was an exciting one, with great instinctual defence on display by both sides. At the end, Dalhausser was just unable to send over a free-ball. Another Swiss serving error on 14-all gave the Americans another match point, but Rosenthal paid the error right back with one of his own. An attacking error for Rosenthal gave the Swiss team match point at 16-15, and in a stunner, they converted to eliminate the vaunted Americans.

Fijalek/Prudel vs. Saxton/Schalk

Nice to get to see a Canadian team on centre court. This match started off with an even exchange of points until Prudel’s ace on 6-5 gave the Poles the first sideout advantage. Then it was an even exchange again. I suppose that seems a pathetically lax description, but there’s not a whole lot to be said about sideout-after-sideout. The Poles led 11-10 on reception at the technical timeout. Again the even exchange went on, until the Poles’ serve at 18-16. It appeared to land just long, but it was called in by the flagger. Saxton protested with the up referee, but the call stood. Fijalek and Prudel reached set point at 20-17. The Canadians staved off two, but not the third, and the Poles claimed set 1 21-19.

The Poles claimed the first three points of set 2, despite Saxton and Schalk teaming up for some terrific (but ultimately fruitless) defence on the first of those. The Canadians called time down three and responded with four straight themselves to go out ahead at the first side change. But ultimately, the Poles were probably just a step or two better. It didn’t take them long to equalise and then take the lead themselves, and they went ahead 12-9 at the halfway point. A long rally on 14-11 went to the Poles on serve to put them up four. Saxton and Schalk took back one point with a service ace, but still lost 21-18 to end the match in two sets.

I took a little break from coverage here, and came back a couple of hours later for some women’s action.

Keizer/Van Iersel vs. Ukolova/Khomyakova

I’m still trying to figure out who this Russian duo are. I liked what I saw of them late last year, but this year, in fuller fields, their results haven’t been as good. Certainly a date with the tournament #1 seeds represented a chance to put a big feather in their….ehh, bikinis?

The match started with a service ace for the Russians (who aren’t exactly easy to tell apart even with crystal-clear pictures), which Keizer repaid in kind on her serve at 2-all. She added another to bring us to the side change at 5-2. A hitting error from the Russian side extended the run to 6-2 in their disfavour, and they called time there. The Dutch team added another before the Russians sided out. The scores stabilised around the second side change, with the Dutch team leading by 2 on reception. Keizer showed some nice instincts on the 11-8 rally to score the kill and put the Dutch side up four. They led 12-9 on reception at the technical timeout. The top-seeded Dutch team added to their advantage significantly after the timeout. With Keizer on serve, they claimed five straight points to break open a once-tight set. They reached set point at 20-13, and put it away on reception.

Set 2 was much tighter at first. It was an even split of the first 18 points, but at that point the Dutch side scored three straight to take the lead. The last was a picture-perfect cut shot that was just indefensible. And they put it away shortly after the halfway timeout, as the run continued. The music people played the charmingly on-point “That’s the Way (Uh-Huh Uh-Huh) I Like It” after the points that put Keizer and Van Iersel put four and then five. They made it six by the end, 21-15.

Fijalek/Prudel vs. Brouwer/Meeuwsen

And then it was back to the men. Today’s schedule was kind of strange. Good thing it only takes about 8 seconds to change the height of the net. This was the second match of the day for the Poles — I wrote up the first — and the first for the Dutch team, coming at 7pm local time. It kinda made me wonder if being on the sidelines that long might have an adverse effect, though if so, it would be even more so in the final match to come.

There was no rust apparent in the early going, as Brouwer and Meeuwsen took four of the first five points, prompting their opponents to call time. The margin was the same at the side change, 5-2. Fijalek and Prudel pulled back a point in the interim, but still trailed 8-6 at the second change. Tough serving pressure turned into solid defence by Meeuwsen on 10-7, giving himself an easy hitting chance to push the Dutch side to a four-point lead. On 11-7, it looked like Brouwer had a kill on an over-dig from the Polish side, but he was called for a net fault instead. The crowd were quite displeased, and Brouwer protested, but the homestanding team still led 12-9 at the technical.

Fijalek and Prudel came agonisingly close to an equaliser, claiming the first two points after the timeout, but Brouwer and Meeuwsen took four of the next five to lead 16-12 at the fourth side change. It seemed like the set was out of reach, as the four-point lead held to 18-14, but a kill for a sideout and two straight service aces and it was all of a sudden just a one-point deficit again. But the elastic snapped, or the Poles ran out of road, whatever you want to call it. The Dutch team finished off the set 21-19.

Some patriotic Dutch fan kept waving a flag in front of the camera at the outset of set 2, so I kind of only caught bits and pieces. The Poles took a 6-3 lead, prompting Brouwer and Meeuwsen’s timeout. There was no substantial run, they just sorta inched their way there. I then lost my connection for a few minutes, and it looks like there was a substantial run in the time I missed. Fijalek and Prudel reached set point at 20-12 and finished off the drubbing on their first attempt.

The Dutch team’s second-set flatness seemed reversed early in set 3. They took a 4-1 lead at the first side change, which was extended by the Poles calling timeout. The Poles came equal at 6’s with a service ace, one the Meeuwsen caught on the fly on something like a baseball slide (going after Brouwer’s wayward pass). It looked cool, but you’re not exactly allowed to do that in volleyball. The Dutch team spent their timeout there, and it was a race to 9.

Brouwer sided the Dutch team out on 7-6, and then Meeuwsen came up large at the net to give them the two-point lead. A point on their serve on 9-7 brought them to a 3-point lead. At 12-10, the Poles clawed back a point on their own serve, but they weren’t able to erase Brouwer and Meeuwsen’s sideout advantage on the next ball. The Dutch team reached match point at 14-12, and just about kept their service point alive with some diving defence. Tough to get the ball back over the net when both team members are on their bellies, though.

Fijalek’s block on 14-13 sent us to extras in the 3rd. Meeuwsen beat that block on 14-all to give the Dutch team their third chance at match point, but Fijalek staved that one off, too. The fourth attempt at match point ended the same way, so too the fifth. Brouwer had a shot to put that one away after cleanly digging the Polish hit, but his own return went wide. Then the Poles got their first chance at match point at 18-17 following a kill by Prudel, but Brouwer staved that one off. Any momentum was quickly lost, with a service error giving the Poles another shot to finish the match off. This was the winner, as Meeuwsen’s middle attack landed wide.

Meppelink/Van Gestel vs. Liliana/Baquerizo

Just a few words here, as I was kinda fading as this match went on despite the good and boisterous crowd that were on hand. The teams traded 21-17 sets to begin with, the Dutch team winning the first and the Spaniards the second. Set 3 went right down to the wire, with neither side leading by more than 2 at any time. Lili and Elsa wound up sending the home fans home unhappy when a block at the net spelled doom 16-14 for the Corrientes champs. After getting the full compliment of teams (eight) as per being the host nation, the Dutch have only two left — Van der Vlist/Wesselink and Keizer/Van Iersel. It’s got to be something of a disappointment.

Full Day Three results

Men’s knockout stage

Round One

#2 Alison/Emanuel (BRA) d. #12 Nicolai/Lupo (ITA) (22-20, 20-22, 15-11)
#7 Fijalek/Prudel (POL) d. #28 Saxton/Schalk (CAN) (21-19, 21-18)
#9 Ricardo/Álvaro Filho (BRA) d. #15 Spijkers/Varenhorst (NED) (21-18, 21-15)
#19 Kapa/McHugh (AUS) d. #6 Erdmann/Matysik (GER) (21-16, 17-21, 15-13)
#22 Huber/Seidl (AUT) d. #25 Sorokins/T Smedins (LAT) (28-26, 22-20)
#1 Nummerdor/Schuil (NED) d. #29 Herrera/Gavira (ESP) (22-20, 17-21, 23-21)
#13 Dollinger/Windscheif (GER) d. #17 Fuchs/Kaczmarek (GER) (23-21, 18-21, 15-4)
#26 Gabathuler/Weingart (SUI) d. #3 Dalhausser/Rosenthal (USA) (8-21, 22-20, 17-15)

Round Two

Alison/Emanuel d. #32 Kantor/Losiak (POL) (18-21, 21-17, 15-5)
Fijalek/Prudel d. #8 Brouwer/Meeuwsen (NED) (19-21, 21-12, 20-18)
#5 Gibb/Patterson (USA) d. Ricardo/Álvaro Filho (21-16, 21-15)
#4 Pedro/Bruno (BRA) d. Kapa/McHugh (23-21, 17-21, 15-8)
Huber/Seidl d. #14 Sidorenko/Dyachenko (KAZ) (13-21, 21-14, 15-12)
#11 Kadziola/Szalankiewicz (POL) d. Nummerdor/Schuil (16-21, 21-12, 15-9)
#10 J Smedins/Samoilovs (LAT) d. Dollinger/Windscheif (21-19, 19-21, 15-12)
#18 Doppler/Horst (AUT) d. Gabathuler/Weingart (21-13, 21-17)

Tomorrow’s schedule

Alison/Emanuel vs. Fijalek/Prudel
Gibb/Patterson vs. Pedro/Bruno

Huber/Seidl vs. Kadziola/Szalankiewicz
J Smedins/Samoilovs vs. Doppler/Horst

Women’s Pool Play

Round One

#5 Ukolova/Khomyakova (RUS) d. #19 Nystrom/Nystrom (FIN) (22-20, 21-13)
#13 Schwaiger/Schwaiger (AUT) d. #18 Forrer/Vergé-Dépré (SUI) (23-21, 21-19)
#26 Van der Vlist/Wesselink (NED) d. #17 Fendrick/Hochevar (USA) (21-14, 22-20)
#28 Sinnema/Stiekema (NED) d. #15 Borger/Büthe (GER) (21-19, 11-21, 15-11)
#22 Bonnerova/Hermannova (CZE) d. #20 Dubovcova/Nestarcova (SVK) (21-17, 21-16)
#9 Liliana/Baquerizo (ESP) d. #16 Bawden/Clancy (AUS) (21-19, 21-17)
#3 Holtwick/Semmler (GER) d. #11 Zumkehr/Heidrich (SUI) (24-22, 21-11)
#7 Maria/Agatha (BRA) d. #24 Köhler/Schumacher (GER) (21-16, 21-19)

Round Two

#1 Keizer/Van Iersel (NED) d. Ukolova/Khomyakova (21-14, 21-15)
#8 Talita/Taiana (BRA) d. Schwaiger/Schwaiger (21-19, 14-21, 15-9)
Van der Vlist/Wesselink d. #12 Ludwig/Walkenhorst (GER) (12-21, 21-17, 15-13)
#4 Cicolari/Menegatti (ITA) d. Sinnema/Stiekema (21-13, 21-9)
#14 Maria Clara/Carolina (BRA) d. Bonnerova/Hermannova (21-14, 21-19)
Liliana/Baquerizo d. #6 Meppelink/Van Gestel (NED) (17-21, 21-17, 16-14)
Holtwick/Semmler d. #10 Lili/Seixas (BRA) (18-21, 21-19, 15-9)
Agatha/Maria d. #2 Kessy/Ross (USA) (21-13, 21-17)

Tomorrow’s schedule

Keizer/Van Iersel vs. Talita/Taina
Van der Vlist/Wesselink vs. Cicolari/Menegatti

Maria Clara/Carolina vs. Liliana/Baquerizo
Holtwick/Semmler vs. Maria/Agatha

Posted by: Aly Edge | 13 June 2013

FIVB World Tour The Hague, Day Two

Moving day in The Hague. Unlike the last couple of tournaments, this one lines up to have both the men and women finish on Sunday. That means whereas past tournaments that had a schedule like yesterday’s (one gender plays two matches of pool play while the other plays one) would have had some knockout play on day 2, that’s not the case today. Today, everyone simply finishes pool play.

Centre court started off with a marquee American team, for the second day in a row.

Gibb/Patterson vs. Plavins/Peda

Nice to start off the day with the world #1 team. And they certainly played up to that billing at the beginning, taking five of the first seven. It looked like another wet day in den Haag, as the sand was unmistakably pretty dark in colour. It looked like the Americans were in line to take a huge lead, going up 8-3 early, but a sideout and for the Latvians and a couple of hitting errors from Patterson made it a 2-point set at 8-6. The margin was 12-9 at the halfway timeout, as the teams mostly traded sideouts between side changes 2 and 3.

The first point back was kind of interesting. It looked like Gibb’s attempt at a cut shot had cut a little too much, landing out. There’s no question it landed out, but the point went to the Americans, so apparently a touch was called on the Latvians by the down ref. The Americans extended to a 5-point lead first at 15-10 and then to 6 at 17-11, as they beat the Latvians with paper cuts by taking two points out of three, three out of four — it adds up. There was no one huge run, but they wound up taking a pretty comfortable 21-14 decision.

The Latvians did a good job of misdirecting Jake Gibb at the net a couple of times early in set 2, but had only a 4-3 relative stalemate to show for it at the first side change. They took their first 2-point lead of the match at 6-4, when Gibb was called for a double hit trying for an overhand set. He looked displeased with the call, and you can’t really blame him — officials tend to swallow the whistle on ball-handling stuff in beach. It certainly didn’t appear to be an egregious violation. ‘Spiker’ quickly got the point back, as the Americans drew even at 7 on the second side change. Upon the Americans getting their first 2-point lead of the set at 10-8, the Latvians called time.

The run continued, and the Latvians started to look a little defeated as an “over-dig” fell in on their side to make it 11-8 USA, and then a service ace made it 12-8. The Latvians did manage to sideout at 12-9 on the automatic timeout, but the Americans quickly put the match away afterward, running to 16-9 before the Latvians sided out again. It wasn’t much longer until it was over, Gibb and Patterson winning a sudden laugher 21-11 in the second.

Spijkers/Varenhorst vs. Redmann/Hatch

Both of these teams lost on day one, so this match had pretty obvious significance with regards to who would and would not advance out of pool play. It was mostly an even exchange to start off, with a block at the net from Mav Hatch giving the Canadians the slender lead at the first side change. The Dutch team got the point back and then some in advance of the second side change. From 5-all, Daan Spijkers remarkably came up with four consecutive aces. A reception miscue, a creeping little let, a spinner to fall just in between the Canadians, it was an ace of each suit, really. He added a fifth point with a kill at the net before the Canadians finally sided out, and the Dutch team took a commanding 14-7 lead at the halfway mark. The Dutch side extended to 8 at 16-8 before really putting it away late, for a 21-11 first-set drubbing.

The Canadians were first on the scoreboard in set 2, prompting a very early Dutch timeout when they trailed just 2-0. Hatch and Redmann added one more before the Dutch got their first sideout of the match, and that margin held to the second side change, with the Canadians up two on reception. The Dutch took one back on serve to start that slate-of-seven, but Hatch and Redmann took five of the next six to lead by a solid 13-8 at the technical.

But it wasn’t to last. The Dutch team caught fire coming out of timeout, closing to within 2 by the fourth side change and taking the lead for the first time at 16-15. A Mav Hatch block made it 18-17 at the fourth change, as the Canadians managed to not let the set get entirely away from them. On 18-all, a big turnaround happened. The Dutch serve was first called in by the up official, until he climbed down for an closer look and ruled it out to give the point to the Canadians. Hatch and Redmann reached set point at 20-19 and converted before extras to force a deciding set.

The 3rd set started off innocuously, with a difference of just 3-2 at the first side change, but after the change the Dutch scored three in a row to go up four at 6-2. That prompted the Canadians to call time, but they couldn’t play catch-up. An ace by Varenhorst extended the Dutch to a 9-4 advantage, holding to 10-5 at the side change. Another ace for Spijkers made it 11-5. If it seems like the Dutch scored a considerable number of aces in this match, they sorta did, but it bears mentioning that it was a very windy day in The Hague, which promised to play havoc with service reception for everyone, all day. It was 13-7 at the fourth change and there was not a fifth, the Dutch team winning 15-8.

Doherty/Rogers vs. Kantor/Losiak

This is an interesting matchup, as Kantor/Losiak turned a bit of an upset on day one knocking off the returning Nummerdor/Schuil, while the Americans lost an 18-16 third set to Kaczmarek/Fuchs (yes, that’s Sebastian Fuchs — Julius Brink is temporarily out of action with a back injury).

The Poles scored on serve first on the rally ending 5-3, Kantor blocking Doherty at the net. They added another on the long rally that followed to go up by 3 points, but the Americans responded with a run of their own. They went ahead 7-6 before the Poles sided out at the side change. It looked like the Americans were at their best with Rogers serving, to allow Doherty to take an immediate presence at the net. The relative stalemate held to the halfway point, with the Americans ahead 11-10 on serve.

Doherty and Rogers went on a pretty nice run after the timeout, prompting the Poles to call time down 18-13. They responded well by taking three of the next four to close the gap to 19-16 at the side change. Then a service ace made it a 2-point set, and the Americans took their timeout. On the 19-17 rally, Doherty repeatedly tried to attack on 2, first after the serve then after three or four digs by Rogers. Every time, he was dug (or soft-blocked) himself. Every time. The Polish run remarkably reached set point at 20-19, but on that rally Doherty was finally able to find the sand. After a few sideouts, Rogers went back to serve on 21-all, and that again was to the Americans’ advantage. They got the true-point on a block by the big man to reach set point themselves, and put it away 23-21. Catastrophe averted.

The Poles held the early lead in set 2, but the Americans managed to keep it close and equalised at the second side change. It was a scant 11-10 at the automatic, but that’s when the Poles next established their lead. They went ahead 16-12 at the fourth change. Uniform singlets were flappin’ in the breeze, showing just how windy it was. Thankfully, what clouds there were were mostly the fluffy white kind. Not ominous and foreboding like yesterday. The Americans got back within two at 17-15, but the Poles just as quickly extended back to four, prepping us for the race to 15. Kantor and Losiak finished the set off 21-18.

Kantor and Losiak again took the lead in the decider, rattling off the first three on serve and leading 4-1 at the first side change. The Poles played insatiable defence. There really didn’t look like there was a whole lot wrong with Rogers and Doherty’s offensive sets, but they could not get a ball to touch the sand. After the rally ending 6-2, Doherty let out a few very loud shouts of frustration, and the Americans called time staring down a 7-2 deficit after the next rally. The Americans did not get their next sideout until 8-3. They cut it back to 9-6, but the Poles then ran off four straight, last on two aces, to break the set open. The final was 15-8.

It’s important to remember that Ryan Doherty is still kind of a work in progress. This is his first season on the international circuit, and he’s only played about 20 tournaments on the American circuit (in fairness — that’s about all there have been) in past seasons. Not really that long ago, he was still trying to make it as a baseball pitcher. I hope this doesn’t sound condescending coming from someone who doesn’t play, but I’m fairly sure he has still has a bit to learn in order to be the best he can be at the game. I hope for his sake that his physical peak doesn’t pass him by before then.

Fopma/Sweat vs. Sinnema/Stiekema

I was hopeful of getting to see a full match from this American duo. Both teams wore cold weather gear for this match, as the winds continued to swirl. The Americans’ pink tops were almost flesh-tone, but not quite. It looked for a moment like maybe they had really, really bad sunburns.

The Americans’ serve reception left a little to be desired early in this one, as back-to-back aces put the Dutch team up 4-1. Neither looked like a particularly tough serve, either. It was 5-2 at the side change. The Americans were able to get the much taller Fopma most of the hitting opportunities, but it sure didn’t seem to matter in the early going. They called their timeout down 8-2. The timeout didn’t staunch the tide. A service error from Sinnema finally did, but only after getting all the way to 11-3. You’ll take that run every time. The lead reached ten at 14-4, and the rout was on. The technical came at 15-6, and the Dutch team led by 8 again as late as 19-11. To Fopma and Sweat’s credit, they didn’t appear to mail it in as the set reached its inexorable conclusion. The final margin was 21-17 after it briefly looked like the Americans may not even reach double digits.

Neither the Dutch team’s early dominance nor the Americans’ late surge carried over into set 2, as it was a 4-3 pseudo-wash in advance of the first side change. The Dutch took three in a row there to take the lead, last on an ace where the American offence just broke down. Sweat dove in the back of the court to get to the serve, and did reach it, but her pass just fell in at the net as Fopma didn’t get to it in time. I guess it speaks to the strength of the serve. Another ace put the Dutch on top 8-5, though after the sideout and side change, Fopma got it right back with an ace of her own. It remained close at the third side change, the midpoint, the Dutch leading 11-10 on reception.

Fopma and Sweat had some trouble turning the corner. They were siding out okay, and even erasing mini 2 and 3-point deficits, but they were not able to take the lead. The turning point might have been the 18-17 rally, a long one with some nice defence on both sides. It ended with Fopma getting a free hit at the net, but her attempt at a roll shot/pokie didn’t clear the net, and rolled out of bounds on the American side. The Americans called time there. The Dutch reached match point on their first serve back, but Fopma and Sweat staved off three straight to draw even. For about the first time all match, Fopma seemed stronger at the net, with Sinnema’s block on 20-18 hitting the antenna and Fopma’s own block on 20-19 cleanly winning the point.

From there, it got a little herky-jerky. Fopma and Sweat staved off another match point on 21-20, and then had their own set point at 22-21. They did not convert, and the Dutch team reached match point again at 23-22. They did not convert that one. Finally, the Dutch side converted on 25-23. At this point, the winds were getting so fierce that they were blowing pieces off the court surroundings onto the playing area, though luckily not until after the final point was decided.

Meppelink/Van Gestel vs. Zumkehr/Heidrich

Nice matchup between two teams I quite like. And the crowd seemed pretty boisterous for this one, too. Lots of claps and cheers and….banging on metal? ‘s what it sounded like.

But cheer as the Dutch fans did, their “home-girls” were outplayed at the beginning of the match. The Swiss team led 5-2 at the first side change and 9-4 when Meppelink and Van Gestel called time. The rally ending 9-4 was a rather dubious failure on their part, with Meppelink’s terminating swing going straight into the top of the net. Zumkehr and Heidrich had the chance to extend it to a six-point lead at the side switch. Despite a clean reception of serve, Van Gestel’s hit was rather unremarkable and easily dug. The Swiss team, too, were dug on their return, and eventually Van Gestel did get the kill. After an ace and another kill to close it to 9-7, the Swiss called their timeout. The Dutch drew even at 10-10, and took the lead at the midway point as Heidrich mistakenly played a serve that was flying well wide.

After adding another on serve following the technical timeout, the Dutch extended the lead to 3 on probably the longest point of the match. Points like that are good news for the serving team, as their disadvantage is negated and it becomes increasingly likely that they may win a point that they “shouldn’t.” Which is indeed what happened. “Ace” serving pressure (I slay me) as the set wore on increased the Dutch to a 6-point lead at 19-13, and they closed the set out 21-14.

The Swiss fell into a quick hole again to begin set 2, burning their timeout at 4-1. More great serving pressure from Madelein Meppelink ran the Dutch side to an already-probably-insurmountable advantage before even the second side change, as they were up a touchdown at 10-3. Even that wasn’t the end of it (I just wanted to use “up a touchdown”) as it wasn’t until 12-4 that Zumkehr got the sideout. And then it really got ugly, as the technical came with the Dutch up a whopping 16-5. A fourth side change was just barely necessary, as the pasting was complete at 21-9.

With still a bit of women’s action left to go, the webcasts abruptly cut out at this point. Luckily, they came back just in time for a big match on centre court

Gibb/Patterson vs. Nicolai/Lupo

It’s always nice to have a match where I know exactly who all 4 guys (or gals, as the case may be) are without having to look up heights or hairstyles or something.

The Italians led early, with Nicolai winning the blocking battle against Gibb (aahhhh) on the first few rallies. On 4-2, Lupo’s little pokie just barely cleared the net, giving Patterson the easy opportunity for a dig-pass/set from Spiker/kill sequence. It was something of a missed opportunity, as the Americans ran out to a 7-4 lead before the Italians could sideout again. Patterson came up with a couple of ace serves to cap off the run, one a field-goal in between ’em and the other a let that just crawled over. The Italians ran it back to equalise at the side change, 7-all. The teams then traded points to the midway timeout, the Americans up a point on serve.

Rain visibly started to fall as the match wore on. Raindrops keep fallin’ on my camera lens. After trading points back and forth for a stretch, Nicolai and Lupo took the first 2-point lead in quite a while at 17-15. A net fault called against Gibb on Patterson’s serve at 18-17 negated what could have been a chance at an equaliser, as Patterson easily dug Nicolai’s swing. The big Italian’s kill a few rallies later made it set point at 20-18. Gibb appeared to play a serve that was bound to land out, but he got away with it, scoring the kill anyway. Nonetheless, Lupo converted the Italians’ reception set point to put them up 1-nil.

The even exchange of points continued into set 2. At one point, Patterson a bit unknowingly missed a chance to put his side ahead, as he Matrix’d his way out of the way of a sinking line drive….only to have it land well in bounds. He made up for it not long after, coming up with a kill and back-to-back blocks to break open the 5-all tie.

The Americans were much more in control in this set, with Gibb asserting himself nicely against the relatively diminutive Lupo. He didn’t always get a scoring block when the two matched up, but he definitely was a little more proactive than in set 1. The automatic timeout came with the Americans leading 12-9. They added a point on serve to go up by 4, and really went to town starting at 15-11. They made it to set point at 20-11 before Nicolai finally got a token sideout. He added a service ace as well, but of course he could not stave off the inevitable, the Americans claiming set 2 21-13.

In an indication, perhaps, that Nicolai and Lupo packed in a little as set 2 neared its conclusion, set 3 was another even exchange. Nicolai suddenly looked a lot more tenacious at the net. It was nine straight sideouts to start with, and then 5-4 was a really long rally. Some nice defence was played by both sides, but the point went to the Americans on serve, giving them the advantage. They tacked on a point in advance of the third side change to lead by three, 9-6, and a couple more on kills for Patterson to take a commanding lead. They reached match point at 14-8 and only needed the one attempt at it, a block from ‘Spiker’ sealing the deal.

So yeah, can we all agree these guys are a world-elite team now? And maybe likewise that Jake Gibb was a little underrated last year as half of the World Tour points champions? It wasn’t all Sean.

Spijkers/Varenhorst vs. Alison/Emanuel

Just a few words here, as I was almost asleep when this match started (seriously, these things are like 14 hours long and start at weird times of day). This match, so far as I could tell, had absolutely nothing at stake, other than I guess a marginally more favourable knockout draw. As both teams had already beaten Redmann/Hatch and lost to Doppler/Horst, the finishing order (beyond who’d be 2 and who’d be 3) and everything that was most relevant about it was already decided. Doppler/Horst had won the pool, and Redmann/Hatch were done (indeed, they didn’t even play their match with Doppler/Horst, which I’m not sure how I feel about).

So with so little of competitive value at stake, who showed up? The home team. Alison and Emanuel looked to be playing at about half-speed, and probably were. The Dutch team won by a downright silly (21-14, 21-12) count. I really don’t think it’s a case where they put in a full effort and still got spanked, but I guess we can’t discount the possibility. To me, it looked like they were treating this match like practice (yes Allen, we talkin’ ’bout practice). It shouldn’t portend ill for their knockout round fortunes tomorrow.

Full Day Two results

Men’s Pool Play

Pool A

#17 Fuchs/Kaczmarek (GER) d. #1 Nummerdor/Schuil (NED) (21-15, 18-21, 15-11)
#32 Kantor/Losiak (POL) d. #17 Doherty/Rogers (USA) (21-23, 21-16, 15-8)
Nummerdor/Schuil d. Doherty/Rogers (21-12, 21-14)
Kantor/Losiak d. Fuchs/Kaczmarek (17-21, 21-19, 17-15)

Pool A result

1. Kantor/Losiak 3-0
2. Fuchs/Kaczmarek 2-1
3. Nummerdor/Schuil 1-2
4. Doherty/Rogers 0-3

Pool B

#18 Doppler/Horst (AUT) d. #2 Alison/Emanuel (BRA) (22-20, 24-22)
#15 Spijkers/Varenhorst (NED) d. #31 Redmann/Hatch (CAN) (21-11, 19-21, 15-8)
Spijkers/Varenhorst d. Alison/Emanuel (21-12, 21-14)
Doppler/Horst d. Redmann Hatch via forfeit (which are now again listed as ‘forfeit’ rather than 21-0, 21-0)

Pool B result

1. Doppler/Horst 3-0
2. Spijkers/Varenhorst 2-1
3. Alison/Emanuel 1-2
4. Redmann/Hatch 0-3

Pool C

#3 Dalhausser/Rosenthal (USA) d. #19 Kapa/McHugh (AUS) (26-24, 21-9)
#14 Sidorenko/Dyachenko (KAZ) d. #30 Van Dorsten/Van de Velde (NED) (21-15, 21-18)
Sidorenko/Dyachenko d. Dalhausser/Rosenthal (22-20, 21-16)
Kapa/McHugh d. Van Dorsten/Van de Velde (21-13, 18-21, 15-12)

Pool C result

1. Sidorenko/Dyachenko 3-0
2. Dalhausser/Rosenthal 2-1
3. Kapa/McHugh 1-2
4. Van Dorsten/Van de Velde 0-3

Pool D

#4 Pedro/Bruno (BRA) d. #20 Kubala/Benes (CZE) (21-13, 15-21, 15-11)
#29 Herrera/Gavira (ESP) d. #13 Dollinger/Windscheif (GER) (21-15, 22-20)
Pedro/Bruno d. Dollinger/Windscheif (21-14, 27-25)
Herrera/Gavira d. Kubala/Benes (22-20, 22-20)

Pool D result

1. Pedro/Bruno 3-0
2. Herrera/Gavira 2-1
3. Dollinger/Windscheif 1-2
4. Kubala/Benes 0-3

Pool E

#5 Gibb/Patterson (USA) d. #21 Peda/Plavins (LAT) (21-14, 21-11)
#12 Nicolai/Lupo (ITA) d. #28 Saxton/Schalk (CAN) (21-15, 17-21, 16-14)
Gibb/Patterson d. Nicolai/Lupo (19-21, 21-13, 15-8)
Saxton/Schalk d. Peda/Plavins (21-17, 29-27)

Pool E result

1. Gibb/Patterson 3-0
2. Nicolai/Lupo 2-1
3. Saxton/Schalk 1-2
4. Peda/Plavins 0-3

Pool F

#22 Huber/Seidl (AUT) d. #6 Erdmann/Matysik (GER) (21-17, 21-16)
#11 Kadziola/Szalankiewicz (POL) d. #27 Böckermann/Urbatzka (GER) (19-21, 21-17, 15-9)
Kadziola/Szalankiewicz d. Erdmann/Matysik (21-13, 21-19)
Böckermann/Urbatzka d. Huber/Seidl (17-21, 27-25, 15-10)

Pool F result

1. Kadziola/Szalankiewicz 3-0
2. Erdmann/Matysik 1-2
3. Huber/Seidl 1-2
4. Böckermann/Urbatzka 1-2

Pool G

#7 Fijalek/Prudel (POL) d. #23 Vitor Felipe/Evandro (BRA) (21-12, 21-15)
#10 Samoilovs/J Smedins (LAT) d. #26 Gabathuler/Weingart (SUI) (21-18, 21-14)
Samoilovs/J Smedins d. Fijalek/Prudel (21-15, 21-14)
Gabathuler/Weingart d. Vitor Felipe/Evandro (21-17, 16-21, 15-12)

Pool G result

1. Samoilovs/J Smedins 3-0
2. Fijalek/Prudel 2-1
3. Gabathuler/Weingart 1-2
4. Vitor Felipe/Evandro 0-3 Not often that a Brazil team gets swept out of pool play, but here’s proof that it is possible

Pool H

#8 Brouwer/Meeuwsen (NED) d. #24 Horrem/Eithun (NOR) (21-14, 21-23, 20-18)
#25 Sorokins/T Smedins (LAT) d. #9 Ricardo/Álvaro Filho (BRA) (21-15, 13-21, 15-13)
Brouwer/Meeuwsen d. Ricardo/Álvaro Filho (24-22, 21-18)
Sorokins/T Smedins d. Horrem/Eithun (who still have not won a main-draw match this season) (21-14, 11-21, 15-9)

Pool H result

1. Brouwer/Meeuwsen 3-0
2. Sorokins/T Smedins 2-1
3. Ricardo/Álvaro Filho 1-2
4. Horrem/Eithun 0-3

Tomorrow’s schedule

Knockout stage

Nicolai/Lupo vs. Alison/Emanuel (!!!), winners to face Kantor/Losiak
Fijalek/Prudel vs. Saxton/Schalk, winners to face Brouwer/Meeuwsen
Spijkers/Varenhorst vs. Ricardo/Álvaro Filho, winners to face Gibb/Patterson
Erdmann/Matysik vs. Kapa/McHugh, winners to face Pedro/Bruno
Sorokins/T Smedins vs. Huber/Seidl, winners to face Sidorenko/Dyachenko
Herrera/Gavira vs. Nummerdor/Schuil, winners to face Kadziola/Szalankiewicz
Fuchs/Kaczmarek vs. Dollinger/Windscheif, winners to face Samoilovs/J Smedins
Dalhausser/Rosenthal vs. Gabathuler/Weingart, winners to face Doppler/Horst

Women’s Pool Play

Pool A

#1 Keizer/Van Iersel (NED) d. #16 Bawden/Clancy (AUS) (21-13, 19-21, 15-12)
#17 Fendrick/Hochevar (USA) d. #32 Arvaniti/Karagkouni (GRE) (21-19, 21-14)

Pool A result

1. Keizer/Van Iersel 3-0
2. Fendrick/Hochevar 2-1
3. Bawden/Clancy 1-2
4. Arvaniti/Karagkouni 0-3

Pool B

#2 Kessy/Ross (USA) d. #15 Borger/Büthe (GER) (17-21, 21-18, 15-10)
#18 Forrer/Vergé-Dépré (SUI) d. #31 Bloem/Braakman (NED) (32-30, 26-24)

Pool B result

1. Kessy/Ross 3-0
2. Borger/Büthe 2-1
3. Forrer/Vergé-Dépré 1-2
4. Bloem/Braakman 0-3

Pool C

#14 Maria Clara/Carolina (BRA) d. #3 Holtwick/Semmler (GER) (21-14, 17-21, 15-9)
#19 Nystrom/Nystrom (FIN) d. #30 Prokopeva/Popova (RUS) (21-12, 22-24, 15-10)

Pool C result

1. Maria Clara/Carolina 3-0
2. Holtwick/Semmler 2-1
3. Nystrom/Nystrom 1-2
4. Prokopeva/Popova 0-3

Pool D

#4 Cicolari/Menegatti (ITA) d. #13 Schwaiger/Schwaiger (AUT) (21-12, 17-21, 15-11)
#20 Dubovcova/Nestarcova (SVK) d. #29 Missottenova/Skalnikova (CZE) (23-25, 22-20, 15-10)

Pool D result

1. Cicolari/Menegatti 3-0 A good return to form for them after a so-so (to put it kindly) beginning to the season
2. Schwaiger/Schwaiger 2-1
3. Dubovcova/Nestarcova 1-2
4. Missottenova/Skalnikova 0-3

Pool E

#12 Ludwig/Walkenhorst (GER) d. #5 Ukolova/Khomyakova (RUS) (21-9, 21-16)
#28 Sinnema/Stiekema (NED) d. #21 Fopma/Sweat (USA) (21-17, 25-23)

Pool E result

1. Ludwig/Walkenhorst 3-0
2. Ukolova/Khomyakova 1-2
3. Sinnema/Stiekema 1-2
4. Fopma/Sweat 1-2 Too bad. I quite enjoyed watching Brooke Sweat’s ponytail fly around

Pool F

#6 Meppelink/Van Gestel (NED) d. #11 Zumkehr/Heidrich (SUI) (21-14, 21-9)
#27 Gioria/Giombini (ITA) d. #22 Bonnerova/Hermannova (CZE) (12-21, 21-19, 15-7)

Pool F result

1. Meppelink/Van Gestel 3-0
2. Bonnerova/Hermannova 1-2
3. Zumkehr/Heidrich 1-2
4. Gioria/Giombini 1-2

Pool G

#7 Maria/Agatha (BRA) d. #23 Kolosninska/Brzostek (POL) (21-12, 23-21)
#10 Lili/Seixas (BRA) d. #26 Van der Vlist/Wesselink (NED) (21-17, 21-16)

Pool G result

1. Lili/Seixas 3-0
2. Maria/Agatha 2-1
3. Van der Vlist/Wesselink 1-2
4. Kolosninska/Brzostek 0-3

Pool H

#8 Talita/Taiana (BRA) d. #9 Lilina/Baquerizo (ESP) (21-14, 14-21, 15-8)
#24 Köhler/Schumacher (GER) d. #25 Artacho/Ngaumo (AUS) (16-21, 21-16, 15-12)

Pool H result

1. Talita/Taiana 3-0
2. Liliana/Baquerizo 2-1
3. Köhler/Schumacher 1-2
4. Artacho/Ngaumo 0-3

Tomorrow’s schedule

Knockout stage

Ukolova/Khomyakova vs. Nystrom/Nystrom, winners to face Keizer/Van Iersel
Schwaiger/Schwaiger vs. Forrer/Vergé-Dépré, winners to face Talita/Taiana
Fendrick/Hochevar vs. Van der Vlist/Wesselink, winners to face Ludwig/Walkenhorst
Borger/Büthe vs. Sinnema/Stiekema, winners to face Cicolari/Menegatti
Bonnerova/Hermannova vs. Dubovcova/Nestarcova, winners to face Maria Clara/Carolina
Liliana/Baquerizo vs. Bawden/Clancy, winners to face Meppelink/Van Gestel
Holtwick/Semmler vs. Zumkehr/Heidrich, winners to face Lili/Seixas and losers to bemoan such a strong first draw
Maria/Agatha vs. Köhler/Schumacher, winners to face Kessy/Ross

Posted by: Aly Edge | 12 June 2013

Quick set: Juliana, the face on the milk carton

Have you seen her lately?

The answer to that, in case you haven’t noticed, is no you haven’t. For my money, she’s been pretty conspicuous by her absence this season. Late last calendar year it was announced that Juliana would be partnering this season with Maria Antonelli. Except for a couple of events on the Brazilian circuit, that hasn’t been the case. Maria has partnered with Agatha Bednarczuk (including today over in the Hague).

I’ve seen some speculation and rumours as to why Juliana has been MIA, but today we have confirmation — the national federation have sidelined her. Why, for goodness sakes?

I really can’t answer that. Apparently the Brazilian federation are on some kind of power trip. Starting this season, players no longer themselves choose whom will form partnerships with whom. It’s mandated from above. You know that Ricardo/Alvaro partnership? It’s a very classic beach volleyball partnership — one big guy, one little guy. One veteran, one rookie. But it wasn’t Ricardo’s choice to take Alvaro as a partner. They’re making the best of it (indeed, they’ve already played two bronze finals this year, winning one), but you can almost tell just by looking at them that Ricardo’s not exactly at ease in the partnership. Remember, he’s half of arguably the greatest partnership in history with Emanuel. Can you imagine forcing Emanuel’s hand in terms of with whom he is allowed to partner?

And so Juliana is shelved. I wonder a little with whom she was expected to partner, but ultimately it doesn’t really matter. It seems the federation have decided to make an example of her. From their perspective it makes sense — show that even a former world champion isn’t above the law. But what a stupid law. The Brazilian federation is not the only one doing this — I’m taken to understand that the Russians have a similar policy — but I fail to see the gain. It’s not as if the Brazilians are hurting for FIVB points, so they can get away with it, but I don’t know why they want to.

The above linked FIVB article is primarily about Agatha and “old” partner Barbara Seixas feeling a bit uneasy facing each other as opponents. They played together only last season, and only in 9 tournaments, but it seems they really clicked with each other. Why break that up? What’s the upside?

I have no answer, and it really stinks that the direct result of this is one of the top players in the world being kept from competition.

Posted by: Aly Edge | 12 June 2013

FIVB World Tour The Hague, Day One

I tried to watch ‘day zero’ — qualification play — yesterday, but it wasn’t very watchable. The streams had no on-screen scoreboard and no sound. Made it hard to follow and hard to get into (respectively). I know, I know, you get what you pay for, but in giving it the old ‘college try’ today I had hopes it would be better.

And I’m pleased to say it was. The day started off with one of my favourite teams.

Kessy/Ross vs. Bloem/Braakman

Not a surprise that they’d put a home team match on centre court, and there seemed to be a few people present to watch it. I actually am familiar with one of these Dutch players. I saw Rimke Braakman play a couple of tournaments last year in a partnership with Michelle Stiekema, one that I thought might be going places. Guess not!

But it was the Dutch team taking the early control, getting one on serve at 3-2 to go up two and then a service ace to bring us to the side switch. The PA announcer was speaking only Dutch, but “side switch” still came through clear as day. Guess it’s pronounced the same? The Dutch team got another ace to bring them to 8-4; despite the Americans shouting “In in in!” it landed in untouched. The Olympic silver medallists showed some uncharacteristic ball handling difficulties on the rally ending 10-4, taking an early timeout facing a large deficit. Jen later commented on twitter that the winds were playing some havoc with their reception. April got a point back on serve on the rally ending 11-7, as she elicited a free ball, but the Dutch team got it right back when Jen hit into the top of the net to make it 13-7. The halfway point came at 13-8 in favour of the Dutch side.

And the Americans made no real inroads in the remainder of the set. Braakman scored another big ace on the ‘rally’ ending 17-11 to give the Dutch team four for the first set, and after that side change, they added two more on serve before Jen and April finally sided out. The Dutch reached set point at 20-12, and converted on the second reception try at 21-14. That’s….that’s a whoopin’.

It was sideout after sideout to start set 2, Bloem and Braakman leading 4-3 on reception at the first side change, and 7-all at the second. Some fine serving pressure from April Ross led to three straight for the Americans at that point, prompting the Dutch side to call time. The run continued after the timeout, with Kessy putting up an interesting one-handed block. Looked a little off-balance,  but it nonetheless worked perfectly. The Dutch got their sideout when Jen hit long on 11-7, but they gave the point right back with a service error. It was 12-9 in favour of the Americans, on reception, at the halfway point.

The Dutch team clawed a point back, to be down 15-13 on serve at the fourth change. They got their fifth ace of the match in this span. Then, the 15-13 rally itself was perhaps the best of the match, and certainly the longest. Lots of sliding saves from the Dutch side eventually led to them getting the point and closing the gap to just one. 15-14 was another long one, but the Dutch missed the chance to draw even when Braakman’s bump set to Bloem on the pin was a little too high, leading to a wide hit. April Ross then rotated to serve and got two before the Dutch could side out again, putting the Americans back up four. The Dutch closed to within two once again, at 19-17, as Jen and April looked anything but in control, but they did finish it off to force a 3rd set.

The second rally of the deciding set showed some impressive athleticism on the American side of the net, as Kessy had approximately no time to react to an instinctual dig/set from Ross, who wound up well out of the play, and still was able to get the kill. The Americans took the first real lead of the set shortly after the first side change, going ahead 5-2. The lead was 6-4 on reception at the second side change, and it increased to 9-6 at the second, as Jen and April finally started to look like themselves. But the Dutch team definitely helped, too, as they had at least four service errors in this set. Hard to get away with that in a race to 15, and they didn’t, falling by a final count of 15-10.

Maria/Agatha vs. Lili/Seixas

Brazil vs Brazil doesn’t often happen in the pool stage, so this was an interesting matchup. It started off with an even exchange of points through the first two side changes. It wasn’t strictly sideout after sideout, but as good as. Finally, a kill from Agatha at the end of a long rally ended the deadlock on 10-8 in their favour, and another on the next rally made it 11-8. That held steady to 12-9 at the halfway point, where Maria added another on serve. Amid a string that was again mostly sideout after sideout, Agatha and Maria snuck in another to lead 18-13 when their opponents called time. Lili pulled back a point at the net on the rally ending 19-15 when the ball pinballed off a few arms in quick succession, and let out a roar of delight as the ball fell in. 19-15 itself was then a very, very long rally, with athletic play on both sides of the net. The point went to Maria and Agatha when Seixas hit wide, to give them set point. They converted on serve to take the first set 21-15.

But their compatriots were undeterred in set 2, taking five of the first seven in advance of the first side change. Lefty swinger Barbara Seixas seemed to befuddle the opposing block (and dig, for that matter) in the early parts of this set. They added two more on serve to begin the second slate of seven points, and held that lead to 9-5 at the second side change. Maria and Agatha started to claw back a few at this point, prompting a timeout from their countrywomen when they closed the gap to 10-7. This held to 12-9 at the halfway point, the same score at the technical that we had in set 1 — only with the opposite team in the lead.

But this time, the team that led at the mid-point did not cruise to victory. Maria and Agatha brought the set even again at 14-all on the fourth side change, playing some absolutely scintillating volleyball that you just instinctively associate with Brazil. Brilliant two-way play, and brains just as important as brawn in terms of hitting at the net. Maria and Agatha reached match point at 20-19, but their serve flew wide, sending us to extras. Lili and Seixas staved off the second match point at 21-20, and then got their first set point at 22-21. Maria got the kill to save that one for her side, and then another to bring them back to match point at 23-22. Her serve on 23-22 was short, to tie the set once again. An ace for Lili, off Agatha, brought them back to set point at 24-23. Finally, a block at the net from Lili brought this set to a close at 25-23, sending us to another race to 15.

And they were buoyed to begin set 2, going up 7-3 after two side changes. Maria and Agatha called time down 8-3, but the margin only got steeper from there. Lili and Seixas pretty steadfastly refused to let anything touch the sand, surging to a kind of shocking 11-4 lead. They reached match point at 14-7 and put it away on reception to claim a big, big victory. This right here was probably for a knockout stage bye unless someone turns an upset.

Keizer/Van Iersel vs. Arvaniti/Karagkouni

This Greek team of some interest, pairing a 3-time Olympian (Arvaniti) with a player in just her second-ever tournament. It’s also the #1 vs #32 match by the seedlines, but the last few weeks have told us that that probably doesn’t mean a whole lot.

After an even split of the first eight points, the Greeks took four on Arvaniti’s serve to take a solid advantage and prompt the Dutch to call time. After the side change at 9-5, Keizer pulled back a couple with big blocks at the net before granting the Dutch the sideout with a serve into the net. It seemed like Arvaniti was doing most of the work on the Greek side of the net, but with the immense gap in experience between the two that was probably inevitable. It certainly doesn’t reflect ill on Karagkouni other than the obvious (that she’s inexperienced). The Greeks led 12-9 on serve at the halfway point.

The homestanding Dutch team made it back within a point at 13-12 when Keizer scored an ace off the receiver and out. The Greeks called time there. On the first serve after the timeout, Keizer got another ace as the Greeks both tried to play the ball, leaving neither of them able to. That’s something that goes away with time, those silly little communication miscues.

Despite Karagkouni’s rather remarkable lack of experience, the Dutch team weren’t serving her very much, and she seemed to be a capable setter. When she did get a hitting opportunity, on 14-all, Keizer just destroyed her at the net for a block. She got another block on the rally ending 17-15, and the Dutch at that point seemed to clue into the tactic of serving her a bit more. On the 17-15 serve, Arvaniti very smartly caught them by surprise with a kill on two, and then Karagkouni tied the set with an ace of her own. The Greeks traded a few sideouts, but then a wide hit on 19-18 gave the Dutch the first crack at set point. They converted on reception a rally later.

It was the Greeks who were first out of the gate in set 2, the young Karagkouni coming up with a monstrous block on the second rally to repay Keizer for the couple of poster-isations she gave her in set 1. But the Dutch responded with four of the next five to lead at the first side change. The Greeks called time when their deficit extended to three for the first time at 7-4.

The Dutch duo extended their advantage to 13-8 at the halfway timeout, with an angle shot from Arvaniti landing just long to bring us there. The Greeks took three straight after the timeout to prompt their opponents to call time, but that was as close as they came the rest of the way. That last timeout effectively iced Arvaniti at the service line, and Karagkouni followed her error with one of her own on 14-12. On 15-13, the Greeks really missed an opportunity, with Arvaniti’s serve eliciting an overpass. Karagkouni went to set her in response, but she tried for a back set when Arvaniti was crossing behind her to her front side. Another hallmark of a team with little experience together.

It was downhill from there, with an ace for Van Iersel to bring the Dutch to match point at 20-14. They converted on serve for a 21-14 second set final, which by the way I totally called on twitter. Hey, I was bound to get one right one of these years!

Ricardo/Alvaro Filho vs. Horrem/Eithun

On paper, this seems a decided mismatch, but of course we don’t play volleyball matches on paper. The Norwegians took the early lead, though it was mostly errors by Ricardo and Alvaro (and mostly Alvaro at that) that got them there, 5-2 at the first side change. The Brazilians closed it to 8-6 at the second side change, at which point I noticed how foreboding the clouds overhead looked. It was a little rainy earlier in the day but this was a clear potential harbinger of more.

On the rally ending 11-7, someone let out a rather disturbing scream as the ball fell for a point to the Norwegians. I thought at first it was Alvaro, but I don’t know if he’d be capable of making such a noise. At the midpoint, it was 12-9, and the sand-rakers came on wearing rain jackets. Not a great sign. The Norwegians continued to execute just the tiniest bit better than the Brazilians until late in the set. They nursed a 2-point lead for quite some time, but finally a hitting error on their side was the equaliser to make it 16-all. The Norwegians called time there, but they conceded the lead on the first rally after the timeout with another hitting miscue. After a few sideouts, they regained the lead with a block at the net on 19-18, prompting the Brazilians to call time. Horrem and Eithun reached set point at 20-18, but they couldn’t put it away on serve nor on reception. It looked to me that Ricardo’s block on 20-19 came close to hitting the antenna, but it happened right in front of the up ref, so I trust him 😛 Ricardo and Alvaro then reached set point at 21-20. They put it away on their first try to survive a set where they looked pretty sloppy for about 3/4ths of it.

My connection got a little spotty as set 2 began, but suffice it to say the Brazilians were looking a little better. They went ahead 6-3 early to prompt the Norwegians to call time, and the skies — if slightly — appeared to look a little lighter. And I thought the weather in my town had multiple personalities. It was mostly just sideout after sideout to the midpoint timeout at 12-9 Brazil.

But Horrem and Eithun continued to play with fire in their bellies, claiming three of the first four after the technical to draw within a point once again. I have to say I was impressed by their tenacity, though at the risk of being too on-the-nose, they really had nothing to lose by playing this match as aggressively as possible. The gulf in talent between the two sides is pretty stark (Ricardo and Alvaro have a bronze medal and a fourth place so far this year, while Horrem and Eithun have yet to even win one match in the main draw). Whoever screamed earlier did so again late in set 2, as Ricardo and Alvaro neared victory. They led 19-16 at the fifth side change, and there was not a sixth, as Alvaro’s kill on 21-18 ended things. Kind of an ugly match, all told.

Rosenthal/Dalhausser vs. Van Dorsten/Van de Velde

I don’t really know either of these Dutch players, but I’m thankful to them, because they get Phil and Sean an early date on centre court. I imagine congratulations are in order to Phil and his wife Jennifer on the birth of their son, being that he sat out Corrientes because the birth was imminent, but there was never any public announcement. They’re certainly under no obligation to make one, but I do find it a little odd. Congratulations all the same.

And the probable best team in the world played like it early on in this match. Serving pressure from both of them, in turn, kept the Dutch team way out of sorts. Of course Phil “Wingspan” Dalhausser being there at the net for even the slightest of overpasses sure doesn’t hurt either. They took a quick 7-2 lead before the set settled into a sideout-after-sideout groove for a bit. At 9-5, the Americans ran just a textbook block play, with Rosenthal covering Dalhausser’s soft block and coming up with the right set for a HULK SMASH from Phil. It was all just a little too easy.

Even when further serving pressure from Dalhausser led to a free-ball on 12-6, the free-ball just landed long. The Americans had a commanding 14-7 lead at the halfway point. About all the Dutch team could do was sideout — I think they scored on serve all of twice during this set. The Americans reached set point at 20-12 and put it away at 21-13 when the Dutch team’s serve flew long.

The story didn’t really change in set 2. Rosenthal and Dalhausser led throughout, applying their same mix of being better at absolutely everything, even as they seemed to let off the gas just a little. It was 13-8 at the halfway mark and I’m not sure other than siding out that the Dutch team ever reduced the deficit. The Americans reached match point at 20-14 and put it away on service. All too easy.

Alison/Emanuel vs. Redmann/Hatch

The team that might best give Rosenthal and Dalhausser a run for their money for the mantle of “best in the world” took to the outer court next. They faced a new Canadian pairing, as Mav Hatch and Christian Redmann’s first tourney together (as if this matchup needed to be even more slanted). Not sure if it’s a new permanent arrangement, or if it’s just for this week. We shall see.

The Canadian boys started strong, taking the first two points, but the Brazilians still led 4-3 at the first side change, a big block for Alison to get them there. They took four of the next seven as well to lead 8-6 after two changes. An ace for Emanuel broke a subsequent string of sideouts, but the scoring pattern still held up as it was 12-9 Brazil at the technical timeout. I wasn’t sure if the pattern was going to continue, with Emanuel serving on 15-12, but his let-ace fell in to make it 16-12 and four straight 4-3’s. Really, that’s classic beach volleyball. It is by its nature a game of inches, so taking an inch here and an inch there is often your best path to victory. I mean it’s nice when you can just blow somebody out of the water, like Rosenthal and Dalhausser in the previous match, but it doesn’t often happen that way.

And far be it from these guys to break a combo. It was 20-15 at the fifth side change, and on Brazil’s set point serve, Mav Hatch kind of absentmindedly jabbed at the ball, and it fell for an ace. I’m not sure if it wouldn’t have fallen in anyway if he hadn’t touched it. He kicked the sand in seeming disgust as the teams went to their bench areas.

The scoring pattern didn’t continue into set 2. Alison and Emanuel asserted themselves early in the 2nd, taking the first four points and a 5-2 lead at the first side change. Sure enough, though, that score was duplicated in advance of the second change, as the Canadians called time trailing 10-4. Twice was all the repetition there would be for that pattern, as the Brazilians called time on 12-7. It was 13-8 at the technical, and the deficit pretty well stayed the same to the set’s conclusion at 21-14, Alison adding two on serve to finish it.

Nummerdor/Schuil vs. Kantor/Losiak

Rogers and Doherty, a team in whom I’m reasonably interested, were also playing at this time slot on the outer court, but I had to go to centre court here to see the season debut of the Netherlands’ premier beach volleyball duo.

But it wasn’t a very exciting start to the match. It was an ‘even split’ of the first seven (Poles up one on service) to begin, and then Kantor and Losiak added three in a row to go up 7-3 and prompt a timeout from the Dutch side. This is the 1 vs. 32 match on the men’s side, and while Nummerdor and Schuil were given the #1 seed because they’re part of the host nation’s contingent, it’s not a total aberration like it was in Corrientes. They’re multi-time Olympians and multiple FIVB medallists, including two golds just last season. They’d get a single-digit seed even without being fast-tracked to #1. At the same time, the 32-seed is usually some fringe team or some unknown team. Kantor and Losiak aren’t world-beaters, but I’ve certainly written about them before, so I was a little surprised to see them come in that low. Nummerdor and Schuil pulled back a point in advance of the automatic timeout, but still trailed 12-9.

And the Poles quickly equalised. They had just a little bit more spring in their steps than the wrong-side-of-35 Dutch duo, which was kind of a surprise. I thought Nummerdor and Schuil would be amped for this one, their first FIVB match of the season, and in front of the home fans. The lead for the Polish team got as large as 5, at 16-11. Nummerdor and Schuil came within 3 at 19-16 and 20-17, and then staved off two set points, but not the third. Set 1 went to the Poles 21-19.

Set 2 started off with some really nifty defence on the Polish side of the net. The play was on their serve, and they managed to get the kill anyway despite it looking 2 or 3 different times like the rally was over in favour of the receivers. Great speed, reflexes, and ball handling skills to keep it from hitting. They took an immediate 5-2 lead at the first side change, and the second set took on much the same tone as the first. Following a bad unforced error by Nummerdor, the Dutch called time trailing 9-4. They pulled back a point on the rally ending 11-7, as the block attempt was ruled to have hit the antenna (I thought at first it was Schuil’s attack attempt that had, but evidently not). The midpoint in set 2 came with the Poles up 13-8 on serve.

And they really poured it on from there, extending to a 7-point lead at 17-10. Match point came not long after, at 20-13, and Schuil’s final service error ended the second set at 21-14. Good for Kantor and Losiak, but I was hoping for a better showing by Nummerdor and Schuil. We’ll go with “out of practice” rather than “washed up” at this point, but it’s definitely something to keep an eye on. As I’ve mentioned before, this ain’t these guys’ first rodeo. They’ve been around the block a time or two. Father Time finds us all eventually.

Ukolova/Khomyakova vs. Fopma/Sweat

And it was then time for the second go-’round for the ladies. This match interested me. Ukolova and Khomyakova were in their third or fourth tournament back together after starting the year with different partners. They had some good results last year, but they were all after the Olympics, which softens the field a little bit. So this year figures to be an interesting barometer of where they truly stand (presuming they stay together). This was my first time seeing Fopma and Sweat play. Brooke Sweat is an eye-catching player. She’s rather short for a volleyball player (listed at 5-foot-8), but the most eye-catching thing about her is her very long ponytail. It just about reaches her bottom, and it swings back and forth wildly as she plays.

The Americans led early, going up 5-2 at the first side change. Sweat proved, perhaps unsurprisingly as she and Fopma do form a perfectly capable team, to be a solid passer and hitter, leading to easy scoring opportunities on the first few rallies. The Russians, though, equalised and then some pretty quickly, going up 11-9 before a service error made it 11-10 at the technical. As the set wore on, Ukolova and Khomyakova would put a little distance between the two sides, only to have Fopma and Sweat equalise. But eventually a pattern like that favours the Russians, and they pulled away at the end for a 21-15 first set final.

Interesting to note that for as easy as the Americans are to tell apart (aside from Sweat’s noticeable hair, they’re also 7 inches different in height), the Russians aren’t. They’re both listed at 5-foot-11 and have basically the same hairstyles too. If only these webcasts were high enough quality to pick out uniform numbers.

Set 2 began just as set 1 did, with the Americans leading by three at the first side change. The stream got a little choppy at that point, but it was evident that the Russians were able to equalise at around 7 or 8. An ace put them up 11-10 at the technical. Then at 15-12, that camera stopped working altogether. The match was definitely trending in the way of the Russians, but the Americans actually came back to win in three. Boo-urns on my not getting to see the whole match.

And at this point the organisers kind of padded the day’s schedule by having the last few matches run consecutively rather than concurrently. They all featured Dutch teams, and so far everybody has done this (China, Argentina, and now Netherlands), but still it irks me a little. Why stretch the day to 11 hours when it could just as easily be done in 8? Isn’t 8 enough? (no pun intended) The point of this paragraph is that I didn’t attempt to write up any of these matches. The day was long, and I sorta gave up the ghost by that point.

Full Day One results

Women’s Pool Play

Pool A

#1 Keizer/Van Iersel (NED) d. #32 Arvaniti/Karagkouni (GRE) (21-19, 21-14)
#17 Fendrick/Hochevar (USA) d. #16 Bawden/Clancy (AUS) (21-12, 21-15)
Keizer/Van Iersel d. Fendrick/Hochevar (21-18, 20-22, 15-13)
Bawden/Clancy d. Arvaniti/Karagkouni (21-15, 21-13)

Pool B

#2 Kessy/Ross (USA) d. #31 Bloem/Braakman (NED) (14-21, 21-17, 15-10)
#15 Borger/Büthe (GER) d. #18 Forrer/Vergé-Dépré (SUI) (21-18, 19-21, 15-6)
Kessy/Ross d. Forrer/Vergé-Dépré (21-17, 21-16)
Borger/Büthe d. Bloem/Braakman (21-14, 19-21, 15-11)

Pool C

#3 Holtwick/Semmler (GER) d. #30 Prokopeva/Popova (RUS) (21-16, 22-20)
#14 Maria Clara/Carolina (BRA) d. #19 Nystrom/Nystrom (FIN) (21-11, 21-13)
Holtwick/Semmler d. Nystrom/Nystrom (21-18, 21-18)
Maria Clara/Carolina d. Prokopeva/Popova (21-19, 22-20)

Pool D

#4 Cicolari/Menegatti (ITA) d. #29 Missottenova/Skalnikova (CZE) (21-14, 21-16)
#13 Schwaiger/Schwaiger (AUT) d. #20 Dubovcova/Nestarcova (SVK) (21-13, 21-13)
Cicolari/Menegatti d. Dubovcova/Nestarcova (21-19, 14-21, 15-12) Hasn’t been the greatest season so far for this Italian duo, so it’s nice to see them collect two wins today
Schwaiger/Schwaiger d. Missottenova/Skalnikova (21-12, 21-11)

Pool E

#5 Ukolova/Khomyakova (RUS) d. #28 Sinnema/Stiekema (NED) (21-13, 23-21)
#12 Ludwig/Walkenhorst (GER) d. #21 Fopma/Sweat (USA) (25-23, 30-28)
Fopma/Sweat d. Ukolova/Khomyakova (15-21, 21-18, 15-12)
Ludwig/Walkenhorst d. Sinnema/Stiekema (21-16, 21-9)

Pool F

#6 Meppelink/Van Gestel (NED) d. #27 Gioria/Giombini (ITA) (25-27, 21-15, 15-6)
#22 Bonnerova/Hermannova (CZE) d. #11 Zumkehr/Heidrich (SUI) (21-15, 23-21)
Meppelink/Van Gestel d. Bonnerova/Hermannova (21-13, 21-16)
Zumkehr/Heidrich d. Gioria/Giombini (21-18, 21-13)

Pool G

#7 Maria/Agatha (BRA) d. #26 Van der Vlist/Wesselink (NED) (21-15, 21-19)
#10 Lili/Seixas (BRA) d. #23 Kolosninska/Brzostek (POL) (21-13, 21-13)
Lili/Seixas d. Maria/Agatha (15-21, 25-23, 15-8)
Van der Vlist/Wesselink d. Kolosninska/Brzostek (21-11, 12-21, 15-6)

Pool H

#8 Talita/Taiana (BRA) d. #25 Aratcho/Ngaumo (AUS) (21-6, 21-12) Yowch
#9 Liliana/Baquerizo (ESP) d. #24 Kohler/Schumacher (GER) (21-17, 21-13)
Talita/Taiana d. Kohler/Schumacher (21-18, 21-16)
Liliana/Baquerizo d. Aratcho/Ngaumo (21-16, 23-21) And the wheat rises from the chaff

Men’s pool play

Pool A

#32 Kantor/Losiak (POL) d. #1 Nummerdor/Schuil (NED) (21-19, 21-14)
#17 Fuchs/Kaczmarek (GER) d. #16 Rogers/Doherty (USA) (21-9, 17-21, 18-16)

Pool B

#2 Alison/Emanuel (BRA) d. #31 Redmann/Hatch (CAN) (21-15, 21-14)
#18 Doppler/Horst (AUT) d. #15 Spijkers/Varenhorst (NED) (21-19, 21-19)

Pool C

#3 Dalhausser/Rosenthal (USA) d. #30 Van Dorsten/Van de Velde (NED) (21-13, 21-14)
#14 Sidorenko/Dyachenko (KAZ) d. #19 Kapa/McHugh (AUS) (21-0, 21-0) I don’t like that forfeits are now being recorded this way, but so they are. I’d be excited to see the USA/KAZ match tomorrow, after Dalhausser/Rogers played this same Kazakh duo to one of the best match I can easily recall seeing, but it doesn’t seem like that match will be on the digital airwaves tomorrow. Rats!

Pool D

#4 Pedro/Bruno (BRA) d. #29 Herrera/Gavira (ESP) (21-17, 18-21, 15-9) Good win against a very underseeded team
#13 Dollinger/Windscheif (GER) d. #18 Kubala/Benes (CZE) (15-21, 21-15, 15-7)

Pool E

#5 Gibb/Patterson (USA) d. #28 Saxton/Schalk (CAN) (31-29, 21-15)
#12 Nicolai/Lupo (ITA) d. #21 Plavins/Peda (LAT) (21-19, 21-14)

Pool F

#6 Erdmann/Matysik (GER) d. #27 Böckermann/Urbatzka (GER) (21-11, 21-17)
#11 Kadziola/Szalankiewicz (POL) d. #22 Huber/Seidl (AUT) (21-19, 12-21, 19-17)

Pool G

#7 Fijalek/Prudel (POL) d. #26 Gabathuler/Weingart (SUI) (21-16, 21-17)
#10 Samoilovs/J Smedins (LAT) d. #23 Evandro/Vitor Felipe (BRA) (21-19, 22-20)

Pool H

#8 Brouwer/Meeuwsen (NED) d. #25 Sorokins/T Smedins (LAT) (21-18, 24-22)
#9 Ricardo/Álvaro Filho (BRA) d. #24 Horrem/Eithun (NED) (22-20, 21-18)

Posted by: Aly Edge | 10 June 2013

World League roundup, week 2

The tournament really got going in earnest this week, as all three pools were in action. I covered three matches in detail. I wish I could do more, and that’s why I’m still hoping to bring on a second contributor (hint, hint). Maybe the Bloguin move will help with that. Anyway, let’s get down to it.

The foremost series in Pool A was surely the two-fer between Poland and Brazil. Brazil are probably the favourites for overall victory, while Poland are the defending champions. Brazil won night one fairly comfortably, (25-22, 25-20, 22-25, 25-15) the final count. Leandro led all scorers for Brazil with 14 kills, while Zbigniew Bartman was tops for the Poles with 13. 2012 World League MVP Bartosz Kurek had a solid match, coming up with 12 as well as two service aces, but the Brazilians were pretty well in control throughout, and decidedly so in the final set. Night two between these two teams was a fair bit more competitive. Poland rallied from a 2 sets to nil hole to force a decider, but came up just short in the end, falling (28-26, 25-22, 23-25, 20-25, 15-10). Leandro again led the way, with 20 kills, 3 blocks, and 3 aces. Surprisingly, Kurek sort of disappeared for Poland. Don’t know if he got banged up, or what, but he had just 4 kills and only started the first two sets. It was again Bartman who led the Poles in scoring. The results put Poland at the very bottom of the group, but with their very toughest opponent out of the way and with them still coming in to form, Poland coach Andrea Anastasi seems cautiously optimistic about their future fortunes.

I didn’t see one single rally of the France/Bulgaria series. The first night was another of those charmingly quaint volleyball oddities where the losing team scores more points, as Bulgaria came out on top (25-21, 14-25, 21-25, 25-22, 15-11). Kevin Tillie didn’t play, and I’m still not exactly sure he will. Tsvetan Sokolov led the scoring with 20 kills, 3 blocks, and 3 aces, and floor captain Todor Aleksiev was hot on his heels with 19 kills. France were led by a player I don’t really recall highlighting at any time. 23-year old outside hitter Julien Lyneel came up with 16 kills, 2 blocks, and 4 aces as the French squad came up just short. On night two, the Bulgarians made a conspicuous effort to serve more aggressively. It’s unclear if it really had the desired effect, as they had just 2 team aces to go along with a whopping 24 errors, but process be damned, Bulgaria won in a sweep. The final linescore was (26-24, 31-29, 25-20). The Bulgarians successfully faced down five set points in the opener before converting on their first and only attempt. Surprisingly, after his minor breakout the night before, Lyneel again came off the bench to start this match. He returned to earth a bit, coming up with only 5 kills in this match. The French were led by Earvin Ngapeth‘s 14 kills, while Sokolov’s 19 were match-high. France head coach Laurent Tillie took the positive from night two, stating that both sides played excellent volleyball for two sets and that his men simply ran out of gas in the third.

I wrote up night one between USA and Argentina, noting that American fans should still feel heartened despite the loss. I didn’t really expect the Americans would be tasting victory so soon, but they got the job done on night two against the Argentinians, winning (22-25, 27-25, 25-19, 25-16). I only saw the last few points of this match, so I don’t know if the linescore tells the tale it seems to (each set successively more in the Americans’ favour than the one before makes it look like they ‘figured out’ the Argentinians), but what do you say we go with that? It seems Matt Anderson was over whatever ailed him, as his 14 kills led all scorers. Ivan Castellani had 13 to lead Argentina. USA head coach John Speraw went to the same sort of setting rotation (in terms of playing time) that he did on night one, with Brian Thornton starting the match and Kawika Shoji finishing it. Exactly whom will settle into the role is something that will continue to play out over the next couple of years, most likely (I imagine Kyle Caldwell will also get his chance, and possibly likewise Ryan Ammerman).

Next week in Pool A, the Americans host France while the two South American archrivals face off, with the Brazilians making the relatively short trip to Argentina. Poland and Bulgaria are not in action.

The first week’s action in Pool B went pretty much how I would have expected it to. It started off with Russia hosting Iran, and the Olympic champions taking a pretty comfortable (25-21, 25-22, 25-17) decision. To my modest surprise, Maxim Mikhaylov didn’t play. Apparently he’s “asked for a break.” Don’t know if that just means this weekend or the whole tournament. If the latter, I’m not sure Russia are my overall pick anymore. His big partner in crime Dmitriy Muserskiy is present, and led the team in the first match with 5 blocks, but another Dmitriy was the scoring leader, Dmitriy Ilinykh. Ilinykh had 12 kills to go along with 3 blocks. Iran were led by Shahram Mahmoudi, with 9 kills. Night two between these two teams also went to the Russians, though the Iranians made them work for it a little bit more, at a (25-23, 25-22, 17-25, 25-18) four-set final. Nikolay Pavlov led Russia with 18 kills and 3 service aces in this match. Amir Ghafour led the way for Iran with 14 kills. Notably, the Iranians out-blocked the Russians 10 to 7 in this match, with Iran’s Mohammad Mousavi the top individual blocker, notching five.

Italy also won their first match pretty easily, dispatching Germany in a (25-15, 25-23, 25-21) sweep. It was actually German Denys Kaliberda who was the top attacker in this match, coming up with 16 kills. No one else for Germany had more than 6, though. Ivan Zaytsev led Italy with 14, as their offence was a little bit more varied. Italy exploited tremendous advantages in blocking (11 to 2) and serving (aces were 4 to zero) en route to the win. The Germans nearly turned a major upset on night 2, but Italy stormed back from down 2 sets to nil to win (22-25, 19-25, 25-17, 26-24, 15-6). Zaytsev led all scorers with 25 kills, while Kaliberda was again best for Germany with 21. Essentially, each offence was as varied as the other, as the next highest scorers for Italy were floor captain Cristian Savani with 11 and Simone Parodi with 10, while Germany got 10 each from Philipp Collin and their captain Jochen Schöps. Italy still won the blocking and serving battles, but Germany had a better showing in both, with blocks going 16-9 to the Italians and serves 6-3. Both sides ran very efficient offences, with just 21 total errors for Italy and 20 for Germany. That’s absolutely fine for a five-set match.

I saw a little bit of Cuba vs Serbia. Not much. Serbia won night one (25-17, 25-21, 21-25, 25-20) to make themselves the only Pool B road team to win this week. Aleksandar Atanasijevic was the top scorer, with 21 kills. Teammate Nikola Kovacevic followed closely with 19, and any time you can have such a strong 1-2 punch on the pins, you’re in good shape. Lazaro Fundora led a balanced Cuban attack with 12 kills, but it goes without saying (or actually, I guess it doesn’t now) that the team were severely hobbled being without Wilfredo Leon and Yoandri Diaz. Night two was almost exactly like the first. Slightly tighter sets, but the same end count, with Serbia winning (26-24, 25-22, 18-25, 25-21). Surprisingly, it was the victorious Serbs who made the only lineup change from night one to two, while the Cubans stood pat. Atanasijevic again led all scorers, this time with 20, while Cuba’s top man was Yordan Bisset, 16 to lead (again) a very balanced attack. The crowds in Havana were definitely the biggest of the tournament I saw (Brazil might have been bigger) and I have little doubt the Cuban team will pick up some wins later in the tournament against the likes of Germany and Iran. Moving on to the medal round, though, is a pretty tall ask.

Next week Russia host Serbia and Italy host Cuba. Germany and Iran are not in action.

Before falling short on night two, Canada easily defeated Portugal on the first night of their two-fer, by a count of (25-19, 25-19, 25-18). Gavin Schmitt and Valdir Sequeira were equal-best high scorers, each with 10 kills. Canada had a staggering advantage in blocking, 13 to 1, something all the more remarkable considering how strong Portugal’s block looked on night two. No doubt the loss of the towering Schmitt on night two was an important factor. Portugal’s win gives them 2 for the tournament, and that’s as many as they’ve had in their entire previous World League history.

In a somewhat similar vein, Finland preceded their epic five-set win on night two against Korea with a much easier three-set sweep on night one, final of (25-23, 25-23, 25-20). Kim Jeong-hwan, whose name I don’t recall using in my night two write-up, tied with Jeon Kwang-in to lead the Koreans in scoring with 11 kills. Mikko Oivanen‘s 14 led all scorers. Finland were at a dramatic advantage in blocking, with 14 to just 3 for the Koreans, something that wasn’t the case on night two when the Koreans played much tighter. With these wins, Finland now lead Pool C. After the great second-night match, Finland coach Tuomas Sammelvuo had high praise for the Koreans, and you could say respect had definitely been earned.

Last but not least were Netherlands and Japan, playing their double shot in Apeldoorn. The Dutch team won night one despite dropping the first set, final linescore of (18-25, 25-20, 25-22, 25-17). Wytze Kooistra led the Dutch just as he did in the Canadian series, but he had Jelte Maan and Jeroen Rauwerdink hot on his heels, 19, 15, and 14 their respective kill figures. Japan were led by 14 from Tatsuya Fukuzawa. On night two, the Dutch took an even easier win, sweeping (25-20, 25-21, 25-18). Netherlands coach Edwin Benne praised his men for playing six consistent sets, which is kind of a backhanded compliment if you think about it. Maan led the Dutch in scoring with 11 kills this night, equal best overall with Yu Koshikawa across the net. The Dutch have never lost to Japan in World League play, these constituting their fifth and sixth such wins.

Next week Canada host Korea and Japan host Finland. Netherlands and Portugal have the week off.

Posted by: Aly Edge | 9 June 2013

Match report: Finland vs. Korea, FIVB World League

Enough Anglophone bias, let’s cover two new teams. Finland and (South) Korea clash in this Pool C matchup. The big storyline for this match is the Koreans coming in without star pin hitter Moon Sung-min. He sustained a knee injury in the Koreans’ two-fer with Japan. I don’t know how severe it is, but he didn’t even dress for either of the two matches with Finland. Having him gone is a pretty substantial blow to the Korean hopes, leaving Jeon Kwang-in and Park Chul-woo to carry the slack.

The teams traded points at the outset. Finland ran an effective middle attack to Matti Oivanen while Korea got their first few points thanks  to Park Chul-woo and Jeon Kwang-in. Finland caught a break to score on serve first at 4-all, when a long hit by Kwak Seung-suk clearly, upon replay, hit setter Mikko Esko on the forearm, but it wasn’t called. The Koreans got the point back when Urpo Sivula hit wide on 6-all, but the Finns got the next two to edge ahead 8-7 at the technical.

Sideout after sideout it went a while longer. Both sides received serve beautifully, and it the first 2-point lead didn’t come until 11-9 (for Finland, on a right-side double block). Mikko Oivanen just missed an ace on his serve at 12-10 to potentially give the Finns a 3-point lead for the first time. At 13-12, the Koreans missed an opportunity, digging Sivula’s middle attack for the first time, but Park Chul-woo’s resultant hit was wide. Matti Oivanen followed with a service ace to make it 15-12, and the Koreans called time. The margin was the same at the second technical, 16-13.

Korea setter Han Sun-soo made a very good play on the 17-14 rally. It looked like the service reception was going to yield an overpass, but he got up just in time to lightly redirect the ball away from where the Finnish middle was lining up to devour it. Easy kill and sideout. The Koreans put a double block up in front of Antti Siltala on the next rally to all of a sudden draw back within a point. On 21-20, Korea rotated Park Chul-woo back to serve, and his serve brought out an overpass. It was a longer rally than overpasses usually are, but it ended with a back-row kill for the server to knot the set. The Finns took a timeout there, and then another when Korea took their first lead at 23-22 following a Finland error.

After the timeout, Jeon came up with a huge left-side kill off the double block and out — and was visibly very excited about that. That brought Korea to set point at 24-22. The Finns staved off their reception set point, prompting Korea to call time at 24-23. The timeout seemed to ice the server nicely, as the ball went straight into the net to give set 1 to the Koreans.

There were a scant 2 digs aside in that first set. There were many many many terminating swings. Korea had 19 kills to 13 for the Finns, in advance of a set that was much closer than that spread would indicate (indeed, Finland led much of the way).

The Finns scored on serve first in set 2, when Korean libero Lee Kang-joo was called for a lift on an overhand set. This only gave them the 1-point lead, though, it did not give them a sideout advantage. Korea got their sideout on the next ball when Park Chul-woo’s wide hit was ruled to be off the block. Replays showed the call to be correct, but for an atypical reason — it hit the side of the blocker’s head, not his arm or hands at any point. The Koreans got the point on serve back at 5-all with Park Sang-ha, and the match that had been pretty dead even throughout most of set 1 was so again in set 2. It was 8-7 Korea at the first technical.

The deadlock was broken on 9-all, as Matti Oivanen went back to serve for the Finns. Korea’s reception was easily their worst of the night, leaving them to return only a meek free ball, and Korea turned that into an easy kill. Oivanen’s next serve rebounded off the back row and out for an ace. That prompted Korea’s timeout, but the rally after the timeout still went the way of the Finns, albeit a much longer one. They brought in a defence substitution at that point, with Bu Yong-chan entering for Kwak, but Oivanen snuck another service ace in before the Koreans could finally sideout. The 5-point deficit the Koreans found themselves in held up to the second technical at 16-11 Finland.

At 19-14, Finland made an interesting sub, with Jukka Lehtonen coming in for Esko. I guess you’d call it a blocking sub, as Lehtonen is listed at MB, but he’s also a touch shorter than Esko. I guess it was as much or more about technique than size. Esko subbed back in a few points later, so maybe it was just giving him a breather. Finland increased their advantage to seven for the first time at 21-14, and reached set point at 24-17. The Koreans staved off their reception set point, at which point the Finns made another interesting sub, bringing in young Niklas Seppänen in place of Sivula. Makes sense, since Sivula was back-row at the time and wouldn’t rotate to the front again unless the set somehow reached extra points. It didn’t — the Finns converted on reception, middle attack from Konstantin Shumov, at 25-18 to knot the match at 1 set aside.

Korea went out ahead first in set 3, claiming the 5-3 lead. The Finns equalised at 6-all following a great double block led by Shumov (practically inhuman hang time and extension) and an unforced error on the Korean side. Korea led 8-7 at the technical timeout following a kill that left one of the Finnish blockers laying flat on his back. Sivula got the equaliser from the pipe on the first rally back, and then Matti Oivanen led a triple block to put the Finns on top for the first time in the set. The “defence need not apply” match continued as an ace for Siltala made it 11-9, prompting Korea to call time.

The Finns had a shot to go up three on the 12-10 rally, as they came up with a rarity in this match — a dig — only to have the Koreans match them on the other side, and then get the kill themselves. The Koreans sided out fairly well, but continued to shoot themselves in the foot with service errors (which had dogged them in set 2). An ace from Shumov put the Finns up three for the first time in the set at 16-13, the second technical.

I had noted earlier, with a modicum of surprise, that the Koreans seemed to be the more demonstrative of the two teams. I paid it little mind, but as the match wore on, I couldn’t help but think they were if anything too demonstrative. They were celebrating kills for a sideout (and even opposition service errors for a sideout) by running around and shouting, grinning like they’d just won the World League. Act like you’ve been there before, please.

But I could perhaps understand their demonstrativeness as they made their comeback, closing to within a point and then tying on the heels of a couple of very fine serves by Jeon. The latter was a let-ace, and it was one of those where time itself seems to stop for a moment as we all wait to see whether the ball will or will not crawl over the net. This one did, and the Finns called time to regroup, the set knotted at 18-all. And regroup they did, with a solo block from Esko re-establishing their sideout advantage at 20-18. That prompted Korea to call time, and coming back, they got the sideout with a kill on the middle attack. They drew even once more at 20-all with a solo block by Song Myung-geun, and all right, celebrate that one.

Both sides finally started to play a little defence. 21-20 was one of the match’s longest rallies, ending with a triple block up the middle led by Shumov. He gave it a Kirk Gibson fist-pump as he landed. Play was stopped for about a minute on the rally ending 23-21, though I’m not sure why. The down official conferenced with the scorekeeper’s table before….making no change. This is where a commentator helps, you see. Finland called the set’s final timeout on reception at 23-22.

Finland reached set point at 24-22. Their serve went straight into the net. Their opportunity on reception was a miss, too, with Jeon powering through the triple block for the kill. Finland got another set point at 25-24, and went to a serving sub, Olli-Pekka Ojansivu. And he certainly earned some major brownie points with Finnish coach Tuomas Sammelvuo, as his one and only serve landed in untouched by a good few inches, his ace giving set 3 to the Finns.

The Koreans took the first three points of set 4, all much to the chagrin of Sammelvuo. The second was a very close touch/no touch call at the net. Replays were inconclusive. That prompted a timeout on the Finnish side, and they ran it back to even at 5-all shortly afterward. But not before one of the strangest plays I can ever recall seeing.

The serve from the Finnish side was about to land out untouched. The flagger started to indicate this, and then he changed his signal to out-touched….but the ball was still up. It wasn’t clear exactly what had happened. Both teams looked to be moving at about half-speed as they, likewise, seemed uncertain that the play was live. It ended with a kill for the Finns to, as mentioned, draw even. Replays showed that the play was called correctly — the serve hit Park Chul-woo on the ankle before it could hit the ground, and it wound up being a pretty textbook pass to the setter, who was very alert to keep playing, having not heard a whistle.

The technical came with Korea on top 8-7. They ran the middle attack well with Jeon and with Kwak, whose name I really should have been using a bit more in this report. A kill for Jeon brought them to a sideout advantage at 11-9. 12-11, Korea receiving, looked like something of a broken play. The libero had to set the outside from middle-back, leading to a swing that probably should have been blocked. Even when the Koreans dug the next swing from the Finnish side, it led to a tentative looking swing from the pipe by Park Chul-woo. But it found hands on its way out, to keep the Koreans on top. The Koreans took two big ones on serve, last a double block against the seemingly heretofore-invincible Sivula, to go up four at the second technical, 16-12.

The Finns went to Ojansivu again after the timeout, as a reception sub (?), but it mattered not as the next serve fell in for an ace. Then Lehtonen came in for Shumov, and you had to wonder if Sammelvuo wasn’t resting his top men for a race to 15. Korea extended their lead to 18-12, blocking Ojansivu on the right side, before the Finns could sideout. Seppänen came in again for Sivula on 20-14, and it was clear at that point that the Finns were packing it in. An ace for Kwak extended the Koreans to a 21-14 lead, and Finland called time. Korea also went to at least one sub, with Bu Yong-chan entering in place of Kwak after he rotated off serve. An ace for Park Chul-woo ended the set on the biggest lead Korea had all night, 25-15 the fourth set final.

After a smattering of defence in sets 2 and 3, there were only three total digs in set 4. Two for Korea, one for Finland. Yikes.

Jeon got Korea on the board first to start the decider, his wide hit finding hands on its way out. Han Sun-soo followed with a solo rejection of Mikko Oivanen, and you could just feel the energy in the arena as the crowd exploded. At 3-2, the Koreans got a kill when Matti Oivanen was called for a touch, and he was not happy about that. He threw out his arms in frustration and grabbed and flung the net. If you ask me, he was lucky not to get yellow-carded, which would have been huge in a 15-point set (under international rules, it’s an automatic point for the opposition). And he may have let his emotions get the best of him just a little — Park Sang-ha came up with a monstrous solo block up the middle against him to prompt a Finnish timeout at 6-3. A solo block from Jeon put the Koreans up 8-4 at the side change, and the stoic looks on the faces of the Finns spoke volumes.

Finland got their sideout on the first rally after the side change, as a wide hit found hands. Jeon again came with the sideout for the Koreans. He really came up with every big play for the Koreans in set 5. Korea went to a blocking sub on 10-6, something I only mention because Lee Sun-kyu is in fact noted as the team’s floor captain. I don’t know why the floor captain would be relegated to a one-rally blocking sub in the 5th set — maybe he’s hurt a little. The crowd seemed to recognise him, and cheer in approval, but he didn’t last long in the match.

At 11-8, Finland turned to their serving hero from set 3, Ojansivu. His serve was a good one, disrupting the Korean offence. The Finns seized the opportunity this presented, and drew back within 2 at 11-9. That prompted Korea’s timeout, which kind of iced their receivers. Ojansivu’s next serve hit Park Chul-woo in the back as he tried to get out of the way, and landed long for an ace. His next serve wasn’t legally returned either, making it 11-all as Korea took their final timeout. After that timeout, he finally served one long untouched, as the Korean libero had to find his inner contortionist to avoid the ball.

From there, the match tenuously lurched forward evenly. Korea got the first match point at 14-13, but the Finns staved it off with Matti Oivanen on the middle attack. Brother Mikko got the kill on the next rally to give Finland their match point, and a subsequent hitting error on the Korean side of the net ended it.

Finland d. Korea (23-25, 25-18, 26-24, 15-25, 16-14)

That was one hell of a match, and I hope other North American fans were up to see it.

Take nothing away from the players who fought out the other 200 or so rallies, but Finland don’t win this match without the timely-as-all hell serving by Olli-Pekka Ojansivu. He’s definitely my takeaway from the match, with two massively clutch serving performances when the team needed them the most.

Korea played a damned good match, and could easily have won. Park Chul-woo and Park Sang-ha were both firing on all cylinders, and it was in fact Jeon who led all scorers with 18 kills. If they had Moon for this match, they might have swept. Mikko Oivanen led the Finns with 15, with brother Matti chipping in 10 to go with 2 blocks and 4 aces.

Finland now lead Pool C outright. Even if Netherlands sweep Japan tomorrow, they’ll still be a point down. Both Finland and Korea are on the road next week, the Finns travelling to Japan while the Koreans head to Canada.

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