Men’s Volleyball: USA vs. France

The two national teams played tonight here in Portland, and I took my son.

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That’s in the hitting lines. My digital camera isn’t the greatest at high-speed telephoto, as you can tell. While we were hanging out from this vantage point, I watched a couple of the US subs peppering. Peppering is a one-on-one warm-up: A sets to B; B hits at A; A digs it to B; B sets to A; A hits at B; B digs to A; repeat.

It was interesting that one of them was mucking up the drill, going through a hard time of hitting where he wanted–considering that he’s standing and hitting at half speed and he’s a pro, this shouldn’t be hard. I was close enough to hear him grumble about it, and I had to laugh, because I remember struggling with that exact thing once when I played in college. But that and my height were about the only two similarities we shared.

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(The US in transition.)

The match was excellent. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the international men go at it–it was before a bunch of rules changes. When I played (back in the last century), it was in the Good Old Days, when every serve had to clear the net, and every pass and dig had to be a pure “bump.” I once got called for a lift on a clean, one-armed pass off my forearm. They were a wee bit starchy, those rules.

My friend (and former teammate) Rob summarized it nicely: “Not that I recognize the game anymore. Serves off the net? What is that little defensive guy called? Limbero? Umbro? Limbo? Overhand passes off the serve? Blasphemy. Back in my day we played with a rock in knee-deep snow uphill in July and we liked it.”

Back in the “before the first touch era,” the men’s international game was a bomb-fest, since the hitters are so powerful that the rallies rarely lasted very long. Basically, serve, pass, set, BOMB, end of point (block, kill, touch, etc.).

However, now they’ve changed the rules to “lighten up calls on faults for carries and double-touches, such as allowing multiple contacts by a single player (“double-hits”) on a team’s first contact” (tip o’ the hat to Wikipedia there). For you non-volleyballers, that means that on the first ball over, especially if it’s been hit, you can mangle it. Do whatcha like, just keep it airborne.

Lo and behold, the players make digs! And those digs transition to a scrambling offense, which allows the other team to make digs and transition, too! MUCH more exciting and involving.

France and the US are 7th and 8th in the world respectively (I thought I read), so neither team is slouchy. In fact, the volleyball was great. Great ball control, great hitting, blocking, defense … it was a treat. Having played for 10 years, I might have been one of the few people to really appreciate just how incredibly well they play.
For example, even at the NCAA championships, you see positional errors, bad ball control, and some gawky play. After all, these are great athletes, but some of them are 19 years old. At the national level, every player is a well-coached, elite professional, so if they gack a couple of passes (that means you, Bojidar Slavev), their butt lands on the pine. The rest of the time, it’s freakin’ superhuman(Reid Priddy is a beast). It’s frankly too bad the place wasn’t full. If I had been coaching volleyball, I would have dragged my entire team out to see them play, just to give them a taste of what world-class volleyball is like.

My son didn’t quite catch all of it, but when I explained some of it he liked it. And at the end he wanted a volleyball. Good sign, I thought.
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(A good look at the US offense. The three blurry guys are the potential attackers. The one all wound up in the middle ended up hitting.)

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