Summer Progress Toward Olympic Qualification
Summer 2007 started with the big picture for the U.S. Women’s National Volleyball Team and worked itself toward the fine details and brush strokes that will be needed for 2008 Olympics qualification. The summer canvas, or results sheet, painted a picture of a team laying the groundwork toward Beijing, as well as a glimpse into the team’s future beyond 2008.
Among the crafted storylines this summer include:
-Veterans Tayyiba Haneef-Park (Laguna Hills, Calif.) and Danielle Scott-Arruda (Baton Rouge, La.) providing veteran leadership and consistent scoring in two of three tournaments. Haneef-Park switched positions to opposite, her 2004 Olympics position, for the FIVB World Grand Prix.
-Return of two-time Olympians Logan Tom (Salt Lake City, Utah) and Stacy Sykora (Burleson, Texas) after nearly three years away from the U.S. Women’s National Indoor Team.
-Emergence of Kim Glass (Lancaster, Pa.) as an option at outside hitter in her first international competition at FIVB World Grand Prix.
-College players Tracy Stalls (Denver, Colo.), Cynthia Barboza (Long Beach, Calif.), Foluke Akinradewo (Plantation, Fla.) and Marcie Hampton (Gainesville, Fla.) providing glimpses what may not be too far off in the future for Team USA.
-A crowded setter spot with the return of Lindsey Berg (Honolulu) to the team after nearly a year hiatus to help the setting chores. Captain Robyn Ah Mow-Santos (Honolulu) set for the U.S. at two of three tournaments. Courtney Thompson (Kent, Wash.), less than a year out of college, helped U.S. to a bronze medal at the Pan American Games. Thompson was one of only two players to compete in the first three summer tournaments for Team USA. Further, Lindsey Hunter (Papillion, Neb.) started the first two matches at the Pan American Games.
-Two victories over NORCECA rivals Cuba and Dominican Republic.
The U.S. claimed the silver medal at the NORCECA Continental Championship to earn a berth into the 2007 FIVB World Cup. Team USA swept Trinidad & Tobago, Mexico and Dominican Republic during pool play, then handled host Canada in three sets during the semifinals. Cuba outlasted the U.S. 22-25, 25-18, 19-25, 25-23, 18-16 to win the gold medal.
To reach this point in the season, U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach ‘Jenny’ Lang Ping elected to use a combination of veteran and young players at the season’s first two events, the Pan American Cup held June 21-29 at Colima, Mexico, and the Pan American Games held July 14-19 at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
After going undefeated during the Pan American Cup pool play, the U.S. finished the tournament in fourth place. However, Team USA reached most of its goals by qualifying for the 2008 FIVB World Grand Prix while playing a young roster against predominantly veteran opponents.
Half the Pan American Cup roster carried over to the Pan American Games at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Haneef-Park and Scott-Arruda, the U.S. delegation flag bearer for the Pan American Games Opening Ceremony, provided a key balance of veteran leadership to a young squad.
Team USA collected victories over Costa Rica and Puerto Rico in pool play, but was overmatched by Cuba’s top team in the final preliminary match. After a rough start against host Brazil in the semifinals, the U.S. stayed close the final two periods of a three-set loss. The Americans rebounded with a sweep of Peru to claim the bronze medal.
Lang Ping assembled a veteran roster for the FIVB World Grand Prix after evaluating the college players and relatively new players to the international scene. However, the U.S. Women’s National Team faced a daunting task to qualify for the FIVB World Grand Prix Finals through three weekends of preliminary action in three distinct locations: Rzeszow, Poland; Khabarovsk, Russia; and Macau, China.
Team USA finished seventh at the conclusion of the three World Grand Prix preliminary round weekends with a 5-4 record, just out of qualification for the Finals Round. The American squad held destiny in its own hands up to the final day of preliminary matches, but lost to Netherlands in four sets in a match that guaranteed the winner a berth in the Final Round.
The U.S. started the Grand Prix with wins over Poland and Russia, the world’s top-ranked team, at Poland. Both squads qualified for the six-team FIVB World Grand Prix Finals. During the second week of the tournament, the U.S. defeated NORCECA rival Cuba and Kazakhstan. After the first two weeks of preliminary action, Team USA had lost to just 2004 Olympic champion China and Russia in a rematch on its home court.
During the final preliminary weekend in Macau, the U.S. dropped a second three-set match to host China to put the Americans in a must-win situation the rest of the round. Team USA responded with a four-set win over Cuba, but failed to earn the finals berth after losing to Netherlands.
Based on the final win-loss records for the 12 countries competing in the FIVB World Grand Prix preliminary rounds, Team USA had the third toughest schedule. The U.S. faced a schedule that compiled 45 wins in the tournament. Chinese Taipei opponents cataloged 55 wins, thanks in part to three matches against Brazil and seven matches versus above .500 teams for the tournament. China played a tournament-high eight matches against teams with at least a .500 record for a total of 48 victories.