By Owen Perkins
Team USA had its most exciting and promising match of World League volleyball Sunday night, before a crazed crowd of over 2,000 at the World Arena and to the detriment of their guests for the weekend, the highly vaunted Brazilian team.
The match began poorly for the home team, losing the first set 13-25 to a powerful Brazil team. Of the 13 points USA tallied in the opening set, nine of them came from Brazil's own serving errors. Things looked dismal at the outset, bordering on pathetic. The team came to life in the second set, although they still lost 25-20, making for five straight set losses to Brazil beginning with the shutout Saturday night. The tide turned in the third set, however, and once USA took the lead mid-way through, they never relinquished it again, battling for three straight sets and a match victory against a Brazilian team caught off-guard by the upstart Americans.
"I don't think the difference was as big as it seemed," Coach Doug Beal said of the surprising turn of events between Saturday and Sunday. "Volleyball is a game of very small parts, and the difference between a very good play and an error can be a couple of inches or a half a step."
With two of the team's key starters, Tom Hoff and Kevin Barnett, out for the weekend, the secret to success was some big performances from younger, less experienced players. Clay Stanley led the team with monster kills as he attacked the net.
"When you've got Stanley with a lot of gas on the right side, it fires me up," said Reid Priddy, noting the building emotional groove that the players fed off from themselves and the crowd.
The serving game was nothing to boast about on either side, with some 67 serving faults throughout the match. "We missed more than we'd like for sure," said Beal. "So did they." Conventional wisdom was turned on its head as the serving team seemed at a disadvantage, hoping just to get the ball in play and avoid losing points that either came up short against the net or went long beyond the base line.
"I love it here," Priddy said of the progress the team is making in turning the World Arena into an advantageous home court. "I thought the crowds tonight, last night, and the first match of last weekend were just great. The crowd really adds a lot for me personally. They're excited about volleyball and their getting loud. That makes a big difference I think."
Beal couldn't emphasize enough the impact of playing in front of the Colorado Springs fans in the unique high altitude setting of the World Arena. "Two five set wins here at home is probably not an accident. There is a home court advantage I think. I think it's very significant, it's real positive for this team. I think the support's been great. However many people were there saw a team respond to the crowd and the enthusiasm and it's clearly infectious and contagious and real good for our team. I really thought it was a significant factor in getting the players to be intense and alive."
"It's a great team," Beal said of Brazil, who were every bit the top team he expected to face. "That's a great win for us. We need to enjoy it and be happy about it for as long as we can, which will probably be until practice on Tuesday."
The weekend spilt with Brazil puts Team USA into sole possession of second place, a single match behind Brazil. The team travels to Brazil for a rematch this weekend before returning to the Springs to conclude their home schedule against Germany next Saturday and Sunday. You can follow their overseas results online at www.fivb.ch.