FIVB - Volleyball World Grand Prix

WORLD GRAND PRIX BLOG

Feng Kun (CHN) - The World Grand Prix Finals in Sapporo will be entertaining to watch

 

Lausanne, Switzerland, August 27, 2013 – As the six finalist teams start counting down the days to the  World Grand Prix Finals in Sapporo (Japan), Feng Kun, former star player of China’s national volleyball team shares her views of the action so far and what volleyball fans can expect to see at the Finals this year.

“Time flies. I still remember the final match of the 2003 World Grand Prix Finals in Italy, where China beat Russia in straight sets to win the World Grand Prix title for the first time ever. The triumph in the World Grand Prix was an important confidence boost and China went on to clinch back-to-back titles at the World Cup in Japan and the Olympic Games in Athens.  For me and my colleagues, it really was the best time of our careers.

“This year is the first year of the new Olympic circle and I believe the World Grand Prix Finals in Sapporo will be entertaining to watch. Almost all the best teams in the world have recruited some new players and it will be interesting to observe the performances of the new up-and-coming talents to see who will be the superstars of tomorrow. The experienced players will also be working hard to continue their best form and keep their top level of playing.

“Although I have not had the opportunity to watch many matches in the preliminary rounds except those involving China, I have been following the news and reports of the World Grand Prix closely. The USA and Serbia were in great shape and I believe the competition in the Finals will be wide open and every team in Sapporo will have the same chance to vie for the top honour. The Finals are totally different from the preliminaries because the players are under greater pressure and mental focus will be very important, especially to the young players. I am looking forward to seeing some fierce competition and outstanding performances from the best teams in the world.

“The Chinese team has won nine matches in a row in the preliminary round under the guidance of Lang Ping. Importantly the preliminary round gave Lang Ping the opportunity to try different players and line-ups and get familiar with her team. I am pleased to see China enter the Finals as the top finisher in the preliminary round, but the players now need to put this behind them and concentrate on this coming weekend’s matches. They should just do the best they can. Of course they will try to take every opportunity to win, but the goal of the team for this tournament is not winning the title, but looking for their best line-up and improving overall performance.

“In my opinion, it will be interesting to watch Zhu Ting, a young side attacker who was recruited from the national youth team by Lang Ping. She is young and talented and has the potential to become a superstar in the future.

“The Chinese setter Shen Jingsi is also worth watching. She was selected for the national team over the last four years, but this will be the first important tournament she will play as a starting setter. As a retired setter, I will be watching her play closely. And I also expect great performances from veterans Wang Yimei, Hui Ruoqi and Zhang Xian, who are in a golden time of their volleyball careers.

“I am also pleased to see that the Challenge System will be used in the World Grand Prix Finals for the first time ever. I think it’s a very good idea to bring this technology into the sport of volleyball. The competition in this tournament gets stronger every year and from my experience controversial calls affect the moral of players quite significantly sometimes. I think the introduction of the Challenge System will make the game fairer and help referees make better and more accurate decisions.”

Feng Kun is a former Chinese volleyball who retired in 2011. In a distinguished career Kun won many titles, including gold at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games - where she was also named MVP and Best Setter - and bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the 2003 FIVB Volleyball Women's World Cup, the 2001 FIVB Volleyball Women's World Grand Champions Cup and the 2003 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix where she was also the Best Setter. She was also the Athletes’ Role Model at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010.

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Yoshie Takeshita (JPN) - Japan has what it takes to be number one this year

Lausanne, Switzerland, August 22, 2013 – Japan made an excellent start to their 2013 World Grand Prix campaign. And as the city of Sapporo gets ready to host the Finals, the Olympic bronze medalists hope to make the home crowd proud by winning a place on the podium for the first time ever. Former star player Yoshie Takeshita looks back on Japan’s excellent performance so far and assesses the team’s chances of taking the title this year.
 

“I was very pleased with the level at which Japan performed in the preliminary round of this year’s World Grand Prix and the team has set the standard high for themselves. They won their first six matches in the tournament, eventually ending the preliminary round securing seven wins in nine matches. And it was not an easy task as Japan faced some strong competition over the three weeks. 

"But Japan’s achievements this season come as no surprise.

"Japan has a good set of players this year, including three Olympians from last year’s bronze medal team in London in the form of Saori Kimura, Yukiko Ebata, Risa Shinnabe. The richness of their experience has been vital in helping the younger players get comfortable on the court and a get a handle on the pressures of high level competition.

"Although the new team started playing together only last spring, they have shown a remarkable willingness to communicate and work together. In my opinion this is the key quality of the team and one of the main reasons they have succeeded in spite of not having too much time to prepare for the World Grand Prix. I know that this will help each player to put forward their best performance for the greater good of the team.

"Importantly, the women have coach Masayoshi Manabe leading the way. And the assistant coaches, therapists, analysts and other expert staff have all the requisite know-how to help the team succeed. And they work well together to ensure that the team plays a powerful and intelligent game. The players also receive a great of support from their entourage and I am more convinced than ever that Japan has what it takes to be number one this year.

"But if the preliminary round has taught the Japanese team anything, it is that they cannot let down their guard. Now, more than ever, it is important that the team learn from the mistakes made over the three weeks of matches in order to improve their game. This will be the only way they can head off the challenge from the other five teams in the Finals.

"Is it difficult to watch the action from the sidelines this year?

"My decision to retire from the sport after the Olympic Games in London was the right one for me as it has allowed more time for my family.  Also it was necessary to make place for the younger generation. I had my turn and as with all professional volleyball players, we know the time to leave will come eventually.

"This is not to say that I have stepped out of the sport completely. As a player one of my aims was to send a strong message to the young boys and girls of Japan that anything is possible with determination and perseverance – even if you are well below the height of the average volleyball player! I now try to instill this message in the children who I teach at the volleyball clinics. I am also a TV commentator, which ensures that I am still up to speed with all the happenings on the court.

"After winning the bronze medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, I said that my generation of players did not really feel the honour of the bronze medal that Japan won at t"he 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. To be back on the podium in London after such a long time was an achievement for the Japanese volleyball family and I do hope that we can continue this trend by winning a medal on home ground in the 2013 World Grand Prix."


Yoshie Takeshita
is a former volleyball player from Japan who played for the national women’s team and the JT Marvelous Club. She was on the national team that took part in the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, helping Japan to a bronze medal in London last year. At 159 centimetres, Takeshita has earned the title of the ‘World's Smallest and Strongest Setter’ and was Japan’s number one setter during her career on the national team. She was the captain of the Japanese volleyball team during the 2006 World Championship where she took the Most Valuable Player award. She was also helped her team to a bronze medal in the 2010 World Championships. Takeshita announced her retirement from professional volleyball on July 26, 2013.

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Stacy Sykora (USA) - Lang Ping was a phenomenal player as she is a coach

Lausanne, Switzerland, August 15, 2013 – Former USA international Stacy Sykora says her former coach "Jenny" Lang Ping is the key behind China's renewed success in the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix as she looks ahead to week three of the FIVB's premier annual voilleyball tournament for women, which starts on Friday.

“In my last blog I said that I thought that the World Grand Prix would be more intense and you could see that was the case in the type of volleyball played. There are many great teams in this tournament but in competition, one team wins and one team loses. Although China and Japan have won all their matches they both had to surive 3-2 encounters. Their respective opponents, Turkey and Germany are great teams as well. There will be more matches like this in the third week because many teams will fight to make it to the final week.

“On the defeat of Brazil against Bulgaria last weekend, one factor that Brazil should remember is that the past is the past and it does not matter what they did yesterday, it matters what you do right now. That is what makes a good team, win or lose. They prepare the same and play with the same intensity and fight. Good or bad, it is still the past and cannot be changed. There will be upsets, defeats, victories – but the question is, what will happen tomorrow?

“I think that it is great that China and Japan have remained undefeated. This shows that they are playing as a team and are playing well together. They are very prepared for their competitors and are executing their game plan. I believe that they are successful because the players are all on the same page. They are all mentally and physically prepared. They are playing together as a team and not as individuals.

“For China, Jenny Lang Ping is the key. She was a phenomenal player as she is a coach. She just knows the game. She knows how to play and how to coach as well. She is one of the best. The Chinese team now is very fortunate to have the opportunity to be coached by Jenny. I think that they are a strong team and I am positive that Jenny has a lot to do with the success so far of the Chinese team. I learned many things from Jenny and she is a big reason why we got the silver medal in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

“I think that it was also a great win for USA against Serbia because they are young and their opponents were undefeated at that time. Any win at this point is crucial for each and every team. I think USA is playing well together and gaining vital experience for their young players. Once again, teams win games, individuals cannot and will not win alone.

“I think all of the pools in the third week are going to have some great volleyball matches, but since China and Japan are undefeated and matching up against a few of the top teams, I believe those groups in Sendai and Wuhan are the two great pools. It will be interesting to see which teams will make it to the Finals.”

Stacy Sykora first played for the US national team in 1999 and since then has gone on to become one of the most recognisable faces in international women's volleyball. She has played at three Olympic Games  where she finished fourth (2000), fifth (2004) and second (2008) and won a FIVB World Championship silver medal in 2002. She missed out on the London Olympics after suffering a near-fatal bus accident while playing for a Brazilian club in 2011. On July 31, 2013 Stacy officially announced her retirement from international volleyball. She now faces a new challenge in her career as coach with the USA Volleyball High Performance Program.

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Stacy Sykora (USA) - Pressure on in second week


Lausanne, Switzerland, August 9, 2013 – After the opening week of the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix, former USA libero Stacy Sykora recollects on the typical changes made by teams on the first week, and provides a preview of the weekend ahead.

“The opening weekend of the World Grand Prix is a very emotional time because it is the first major tournament since the last Olympic Games. Many teams have made significant changes in their coaching staff and players. This tournament shows teams what changes need to be made, and what other teams have changed. Many individuals will learn, not only about other teams and players, but about themselves as well.

“The first week showed us where teams are and their potential. I think now that the first week butterflies are out, this second week will be more intense and will have some amazing games to watch.

“This is a very long, intense, tough, and amazing tournament that can not be won with just six players. It will take the entire team to win the World Grand Prix. Every single Grand Prix I have participated in, we were exhausted but still trained daily and played as well. Like I said previously, each team is looking to make changes and improve. So training sessions are vital and very intense. The Grand Prix is not just three days a week of playing for the athletes; it is 4-5 weeks of daily training, videos and meetings. We even have training in the morning of the competition day. This is why being the champion of the World Grand Prix is so sweet, so wonderful.

“USA's record-equalling winning streak which came to an end last week was impressive but considering we are at the start of an Olympic cycle I would just say that the USA team won two out of three games in the first week of the World Grand Prix and they hope to improve in the second week. The USA team is always looking to improve, like every other team. In the World Grand Prix 2010 that I participated in, we lost two out of three games in the first week and ended up winning the World Grand Prix that year. I do not think that the team is affected negatively. I believe that they are looking at it positively, making changes and growing as a team as we speak.

“Concerning last week's impressive performances, I obviously have to mention Katarzyna Skowronsa-Dolata's 41-point performance against Russia, which was simply amazing, especially against such a strong team as Russia. Katarzyna is an amazing player. I think she can score every single time she touches the ball. She is a veteran, she has experience, and she is a great volleyball player.

“Looking at this week’s pools, there are some very strong match ups. There will be some surprising defeats and some long fights to the finish. All of the five undefeated teams are in separate pools. We will see if these teams will remain undefeated after this week of play, it will be difficult but possible. This second week is vital for some teams to stay alive in the race for the final week.”

Stacy Sykora first played for the US national team in 1999 and since then has gone on to become one of the most recognisable faces in international women's volleyball. She has played at three Olympic Games  where she finished fourth (2000), fifth (2004) and second (2008) and won a FIVB World Championship silver medal in 2002. She missed out on the London Olympics after suffering a near-fatal bus accident while playing for a Brazilian club in 2011. On July 31, 2013 Stacy officially announced her retirement from international volleyball. She now faces a new challenge in her career as coach with the USA Volleyball High Performance Program.

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Stacy Sykora (USA) - USA just need to play their game


Lausanne, Switzerland, August 6, 2013 – Three-time Olympian and Beijing 2008 silver medallist Stacy Sykora made one of her toughest decisions of her career when she officially announced her retirement from volleyball on July 31 this year. Almost a week after her big announcement, Sykora provided her insights on the current format of the 2013 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix and where she sees it going in the future.

I think the 20-team composition of the World Grand Prix is great.  The sport of volleyball is growing and this is what we all have wanted for years.  With more teams coming to the World Grand Prix, there is now an opportunity for teams from all over the world to get more experience, which will allow the level of volleyball to rise and keep rising. On a more personal note the increase in the number of teams, makes the World Grand Prix fun for the players as they get to meet new athletes or get an opportunity to reconnect with team-mates who they played with professionally. I think it is a very positive move all around.

“I do not think that stepping-up will happen as all of the teams in the World Grand Prix have already reached a high enough level of performance. Increasing the participation in this year’s edition has made it all the more important for teams to stay focused and to give 100 percent of their effort, daily. Playing so many matches can become taxing to the mind and body of the athletes and each individual player and team needs rest and a good diet in order to maintain a strong mental game throughout the entire competition. No one has an advantage over the other; the strongest team will win, not only physically but mentally.

“Watch out for the veteran players because experience shows in most of these athletes. Since Brazil and the USA were in the gold medal match last year, I believe that they will have a lot of players to at the forefront of the action. Every year after the Olympic Games, new players surface from almost every national team. Each is one of only 12 players chosen to represent their country in the World Grand Prix, so all of them must be great.

“USA just need to play their game regardless of what the opposing team is doing on the other side. This is why they have been so successful to date as they focus on mastering their game and do not worry much about the other team. They educate themselves on their opponents and know the other teams’ individual tendencies well enough to be able to make minor adjustments to their game.”

Stacy Sykora first played for the US national team in 1999 and since then has gone on to become one of the most recognisable faces in international women's volleyball. She has played at three Olympic Games  where she finished fourth (2000), fifth (2004) and second (2008) and won a FIVB World Championship silver medal in 2002. She missed out on the London Olympics after suffering a near-fatal bus accident while playing for a Brazilian club in 2011. On July 31, 2013 Stacy officially announced her retirement from international volleyball. She now faces a new challenge in her career as coach with the USA Volleyball High Performance Program. 

Read the VolleyWorld feature on Stacy Sykora here

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Virna Dias (BRA) - Virna predicts another great year for Olympic champs Brazil


Lausanne, Switzerland, April 18, 2013 - The year 2012 was a particularly excellent one for the Brazilian national women’s team, as they took home gold at the London 2012 Olympic Games. But can the Brazilian team continue their domination of the sport – especially at this year’s World Grand Prix? FIVB.org asked former national team player, Virna Dias for her thoughts.

"Brazil’s Olympic gold at the women’s volleyball competition in London 2012 was a highly satisfying end to the players’ many years of hard work. And after such a feat it is normal for everyone to ask, ‘So where to now for the Brazilian women’s team?’ 

“I know from experience that the period just after such a big win is often more of a rollercoaster ride than the lead up to the event, as you suddenly find yourself looking for new goals to reach.

“The Brazilian women’s team is now in state of transition and coach Zé Roberto will no doubt be looking to give Sheila, Jacqueline and Fabiana a bit of a rest after five years of rigorous training. 

“But the choice of the new team is now crucial if Brazil wants to continue its standing in the World Grand Prix table. The competition is set to get more intense as more countries enter the World Grand Prix this year, which is why our coach needs to have the courage and audacity to make choices that will be best for the team.

“One thing is for sure, there is now the opportunity to bring in some of Brazil’s up and coming players like Gabi, who at 18 has a bright future ahead of her. The trend after an Olympic cycle is to change only parts of the team but I do believe that Zé Roberto should invest in a new group of young players for this season’s Grand Prix with an eye on the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. 

“We also have Natalia and Priscilla Daroit who both have a good chance of making the selection. Having already demonstrated a high level of skill, I see no difficulty in these young players making the leap into the senior team.

“I was pleased to see that Zé Roberto has been reappointed coach of the national team and I am sure he will make all the right decisions to ensure that we continue to stand out among our competitors. 

“Words cannot describe my admiration for this man who has taken the Brazilian team to a triple Olympic win and his technical team of Paulinho Cocco and Zé Elias, who have accompanied him for years. But Zé Roberto’s greatest asset is that he is very sensitive and knows how to manage a team of 12 women! Under his leadership we have a good chance of winning this year’s Grand Prix as well as next year’s World Championship.

“Campinas, my home town, will host a stop on this year’s Grand Prix and I am looking forward to crossing paths with some of my former on-court companions. While I believe the increase in the number of participating teams favours the European countries, it is still a positive step in the right direction because it gives more countries the chance to participate at the international level.

“I can feel that this is going to be a good year for the Brazilian women’s team and I wish them all the best with their training in the months ahead.”

Virna Dias is a former Brazilian national team player and three-time Olympian. She won bronze at the 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney Games and finished fourth at the 2004 Athens Games. Virna also won the 2004 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix and clinched silver in 1999, where she also claimed the MVP, Best Receiver and Best Scorer awards. She was also a FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Cup silver medallist in 2003.

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Hugh McCutcheon (USA) - Hugh McCutcheon feels good about US women's coach


Lausanne, Switzerland, February 15, 2013 - After taking the US women’s team to a medal victory at the London Olympic Games, Hugh McCutcheon announced his decision to leave US Volleyball to coach the University of Minnesota’s women’s volleyball team. FIVB.org recently had an opportunity to sit down with him and find out all about this move and his views on the current coach of the US women’s team, Karch Kiraly.

“I’ve been asked many times about what motivated me to make the move from international to collegiate volleyball.  

“After the Beijing Olympics there was a strong sense of closure to my journey with the US men’s team as we’d achieved every goal we had set for ourselves. I had been with the team for seven years, assisting them in Athens and then coaching them in Beijing. I was interested in a new challenge and wanted to see what would happen if we took some of the coaching principles that we’d used with the men and applied them to the women’s team. It was a bit of risk but it was an amazing journey.

“After the London Olympics the move to collegiate volleyball seemed natural. The number of men playing college volleyball in the U.S. is very small unlike the number of female athletes, which is much greater.  If we were going to build a model of sustainable success it was going to be with the women. I was interested in investing in a process that had a 20 year vision instead of the shorter four year cycles that we seem to have been working in previously.

“I feel fortunate that Karch Karily was interested in taking over the US women’s team after me. As a player Karch was so good at reading the game and he was great at making his team mates better. Having had the opportunity to work with him, I now feel qualified to vouch for him as a coach and as a man. I know that he’ll lead the team well and I’m very happy he agreed to take on the job and continue the work we been doing. Having Karch as coach means that the team will have some continuation of the philosophy that has been in place for the past four years.

“It has only been five months since I left international volleyball to take up my new post with the Gophers at the University of Minnesota. I’m not sure if I’m far enough away from the Olympic experience to reflect on what it means. But I can say that, having been on both sides of the Olympic final, I don’t have any immediate regrets. At the London Olympics, we did everything we could to win. At some point that has to be enough.

“Will I go back to coaching international sport? I don’t know - you can never say never. I think I left at a time when things could get interesting. Having more teams in the World Grand Prix, for example, is great for more countries to have chances to play, especially at the start of a new quadrennial when everyone is laying the foundation for the next Olympics. Also being able to separate the teams by ranking ensures a higher level of competition, and I think it is important to keep the quality of competition as high as possible.

“I have strong positive feelings about the international volleyball and I may decide to return to it. But for now my decision to get into college coaching seems good and it’s proving beneficial for my family and my work-life balance.”

Hugh McCutcheon a native of Christchurch, New Zealand, is the former head coach of the US men's national volleyball team, the former head coach of the US women's national volleyball team, and the current head coach of the University of Minnesota’s women's volleyball team. McCutcheon led the US men’s team to a World League title and an Olympic gold medal in Beijing and the women’s team to three Grand Prix titles and an Olympic silver medal at the London Games in 2012.

 

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