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USA Volleyball opened its home court competition with a victory over the 6th-ranked Netherlands team Saturday night in an exciting five-set nailbiter that had the crowd at the World Arena shrieking and stomping to support their hometown squad. Spurred on by the tandem of the Loveland High School Drum Corps and USA libero Erik Sullivan rallying the crowd, the World Arena rocked Saturday night, as 1400 volleyball enthusiasts caught the fever of an exciting team.
The rebuilding USA team is something of an underdog, and success against Netherlands is essential to advance to the next round of competition. Netherlands fought back to win the second match Sunday, leaving the teams split for the weekend and each optimistic about their chances down the road.
Highlights of the weekend included Tom Hoff, who nearly caused brain damage to the Dutch as his attacks bounced off the heads of opposing players; Erik Sullivan's aggressive, diving defensive play; Kevin Barnett's relentless kills (he's currently fourth in the World League in total points scored, trailing Netherlands' Richard Schuil); Phil Eatherton's inspired fighting spirit; and encouraging performances from a corps of younger players, including Donald Suxho, Reid Priddy, Scott Wong, Mike Wall and Colin McMillan, who played most of the second match in relief of the injured Hoff.
Coach Doug Beal sees a healthy competitive spirit in the practice gym, where 19 players vie each week for 12 spots on the match roster. "In the long run that's good for us," Beal said Sunday night. "We need to have a real deep, strong group of players. We had a chance to win the match tonight. If you have a chance every night to win, that's a good situation."
Heading into another home match against 4th-ranked Brazil this weekend, Barnett stressed the need for USA to be less timid on the serve in upcoming matches, while McMillan noted the importance of executing the game plan better than they did Sunday, when things got a little scrambled in the excitement of international competition.
Sullivan expects fans to see the Brazilians come out with spectacular plays and powerful hits. "They're going to be jumping around the gym like they just won the Olympics," Sullivan says of the highly emotional Brazilians. "The thing to do with them is just let them have their moment and get back in the game and move on."