COLORADO SPRINGS - The USA Girl's Youth National Volleyball Team will have a chance to compete for the FIVB Under-18 World Championship after all now that Kenya has been replaced by Poland as the tournament organizer, officials said.
The Americans earned an automatic bid to the 2003 Girl's Under-18 World Championships after capturing the gold medal at the NORCECA Youth Girl's Volleyball Championship in Salt Lake City, Utah, last summer but initially, USA Volleyball withdrew Team USA from the world championships because the tournament was scheduled to take place in Kenya, a country where stringent travel restrictions are in place for U.S. citizens.
But earlier this month Kenya had to withdraw from organizing this event and the FIVB then selected Poland to host the bi-annual event and the USA was able to get back into the tournament.
"This is a huge opportunity for us," said Tom Pingel, USA Volleyball's Director of High Performance National Programs. "This will be the only time that this age group in our pipeline will have the chance to play teams from Europe, Asia and South America, outside of last year's NORCECA tournament."
Sixteen national teams, including hosts Poland and defending champions China, who won the last tournament held in Croatia in 2001, will participate in the 2003 edition from Aug. 9-17.
"While we want to win as many matches as possible, the real benefit of playing in the world championships is the experience that these players will gain," Pingel added. "Hopefully, it will pay future dividends for our national team programs."
Members of the USA Girl's Youth National Training Team roster will begin preparations for the event from July 16-Aug. 2 at the United States Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, N.Y. From July 27-Aug. 2, the Canadian Youth National Team will be in Lake Placid to scrimmage against the USA GYNT.
From there, head coach Shelton Collier will determine which 12 players will travel to Poland to compete in the world championships.
"These players earned the right to play at the world championships, but there was a lot of concern about going to Kenya," he said. "I am glad that they will have the opportunity to go."
The United States will join Pool D and will face Belarus, Brazil and the Czech Republic.
"I realize the challenge ahead is very difficult," Collier admitted. "We are in a pool with three excellent teams. We will have to really work hard."
The top team in each of the four pools advances to the quarterfinals, while the bottom four teams in each pool are eliminated from the tournament. The eight teams that are ranked No. 2 and No. 3 in each pool will play crossover matches, with the four winners advancing to the quarterfinals to compete against the top four seeds.