Sad news out of USA Volleyball this week. Dave Williams, the managing director for USAV Beach passed away yesterday at the age of 55 from cancer. Williams was the first and only person to hold the position and brought a wealth of knowledge of beach volleyball events from his many years of work with the AVP where he produced over 150 events. Williams brought energy and passion to the position which was created back in 2010 to promote the growth of beach volleyball in the U.S.
I spoke with him in 2011 about his controversial decision to allow a Brazilian to play in the Hermosa Beach Open. Williams was forthcoming about wanting Pedro Salgado in the tournament as a wake up call for American beach players. He felt that U.S. development had fallen behind Brazil and he wanted our players to get a glimpse of just how good their young stars were. Pedro competed with American Casey Jennings and the two ended up winning the tournament.
Since then, American beach volleyball has made many strides including the addition of NCAA sand volleyball as an emerging sport for women and many more high school and developmental beach volleyball programs for young people. It's only a matter of time before these enhancements begin to pay dividends at the international level.
Williams passed away in a Southern California hospital surrounded by his family. For more information, see the USA Volleyball website.
USA Volleyball announced several opportunities to watch the women's team play in Southern California in the coming months. In an effort to strengthen ties with the community in which the USA teams train, there will be several intrasquad scrimmages and matches against international competition in the surrounding cities.
The women will begin with three intrasquad scrimmages in Los Angeles and Orange County each Friday beginning this week and running through May 31st. Later this summer, they'll host the first annual USA Volleyball Cup Series. The World No. 1 Americans will take on World No. 3 Japan in three July matches in Long Beach, Orange County and San Diego.
The intrasquad scrimmages are free to the public while tickets for the matches against Japan can be purchased online at usavolleyballcup.com - $20 for adults and $5 for those under 18. Children under three will be admitted free. There will also be a VIP option for $150 per person which includes courtside seats, parking, hospitality before and after the match and an opportunity to meet the players and new head coach Karch Kiraly.
Don't worry, men's team fans, USAV says they'll be offering some men's matches as well. Check back for dates and details. In the meantime, you can get more information on the women's matches against Japan via the dedicated Facebook page and below are the dates and places where you can find the team this summer.
USA Women's Team Southern California Competitions
All matches begin at 7 PM
May 17th - Santa Monica High School, North Gym
May 24th - Windward School, Los Angeles
May 31st - Irvine Valley College
USA Volleyball Cup Matches vs. Japan
All matches begin at 7 PM
July 10th - UC San Diego
July 12th - Long Beach State University
July 13th - JSerra High School, San Juan Capistrano, CA
Prince Harry loves volleyball. There's no other explanation, the prince takes up our sport at every opportunity. I think that means something.
Last year, in the lead up to the London Games he made a point of saying how excited he was to watch beach volleyball in particular and he took to the sand to play with Brazilian stars when he traveled to Rio to promote the Olympics. He was in the stadium when Misty and Kerri won gold. This week he played sitting volleyballwith injured vets at the Warrior Games in Colorado.
I think he's been practicing since we last saw him play. There's a little bit of video of Harry setting the ball around with the British squad and then taking on an American team that was joined by three-time Olympic gold medalist Misty May-Treanor.
I'm not sure who won, or if they were even keeping score, but Harry did show some decent setting hands. And at one point he hit a ball that Misty could not return, prompting Misty to get up and try to chase him down as he ran away. Prince Harry is nothing if not fun and the vets all seemed to have a great time interacting with him.
While there the prince also took time to help light the Warrior Games flame and started the cycling event. The Warrior Games features athletes from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Special Operations as well as the British Armed Forces competing in seven sports - archery, cycling, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, track and field and wheelchair basketball. The Games are free to the public and run through Thursday in Colorado Springs.
As far as fan bases go, BYU is right up there with the best of them. No matter where the Cougars play in the country, you can bet there will be hundreds if not thousands of loyal, screaming fans there to support them. So it was no surprise to see a huge turnout to root on the No. 1 BYU men's volleyball team in the national finals last weekend. What was unexpected was that the UCI crowd would rival them in numbers and in noise level. But that's exactly what happened and for the second year in a row, the UCI fans have proven that they can hang with the best.
You wouldn't have known it earlier in the season. When UCI hosted BYU back in early March, there were far more Cougar fans in the stands. They made Irvine feel like the visiting team on its home court. But I have to hand it to UCI, they were able to put together a very solid group of folks to cheer the team to the championship last weekend.
The marketing department sold bright yellow t-shirts with the finals motto "All In" above the UCI logo that played nicely in the arena and on television. UCI also provided shuttles to carry students the 53 miles north to Pauley Pavilion. And for their part the students responded. They wore their shirts, they took the hour drive and they cheered fiercely for their squad.
The BYU crowd laid the gauntlet down in the introductions. UCI was introduced first to a nice round of applause from its fans. But when BYU was introduced, the crowd erupted putting UCI's fanbase to shame. That was the last time that happened. From then on the UCI fans matched BYU's noise level, chants and cheers for the entirety of the match. At points there were dueling chants going on at the same time raising the noise level to heights not often heard at volleyball matches.
Though the attendance of 6,295 fans in Pauley last weekend was far below the count at last year's championship in USC's Galen Center, it still ranks as one of the best crowds we've seen. Take into account that USC was No. 1 in the country last year and playing for the championship on its home court, which always ensures tons of local fans. But last year's amazing crowd of 9,612 fans also included a huge number of Anteater fans. UCI is the common denominator in both of these huge turnouts and they're showing that men's volleyball can draw big, raucous crowds in the right circumstances.
Turning out tons of fans two years in a row warrants a ranking in the upper echelon of fan bases. The Anteaters are now in the company of the BYUs and Hawaiis of the world. Welcome to the big leagues, UCI. Keep it up.
American beach volleyball is looking quite good on the men's side in just the first two weeks of international action. After last week's Fuzhou Open was won by the new partnership of Phil Dalhausser and Sean Rosenthal, Rosie's old partner Jake Gibb decided to follow suit one week later. Gibb and new partner Casey Patterson won gold with a victory over Brazilians Pedro and Bruno. It was a windy, back and forth match, but Gibb and Patterson were able to pull off the victory with a 15-9 win in the third set.
No other American teams made the semifinals this week. Dalhausser and Rosenthal had the second highest American finish, taking 9th place. They bowed out in the Round of 16 with a loss to Ricardo and Alvaro-Filho of Brazil, the team they beat in the semis last week.
It was a rough weekend for the American women. None of the U.S. pairs made it as far as the quarterfinals this week. The highest finish for a U.S. pair went to Olympic silver medalists Jen Kessy and April Ross, who won all of their pool play matches but lost in the Round of 16. They fell to Brazilians Talita and Lima 2-1, losing the third set 11-15.
Both Jen Fopma/Brooke Sweat and Nicole Branagh/Lauren Fendrick lost in the first round of the playoffs after each won just one of their three pool play matches. Emily Day and Brittany Hochevar did not make it out of pool play.
The international circuit will take a short break and return with the Corrientes, Argentina Open May 22nd-26th.
Long Beach State upset No. 1 Pepperdine in the women's sand championship in Gulf Shores last weekend. Pepperdine was undefeated this season and was expected to win its second straight women's sand championship to claim back-to-back titles. But the Waves were plagued by injury from the beginning and ended up forfeiting their No. 1 match to give Long Beach the victory.
Pepperdine started off short-handed as they came to the tournament without No. 1 player Kim Hill. Hill's usual partner Lilla Fredericks played instead with Jazmine Orozco for the first time all season. The two lost their first match to USC, but all of the other Pepperdine pairs won so they advanced to the semifinal. Pepperdine's bad luck continued when Orozco went down with a concussion in the semi against Florida State. Pepperdine forfeited that match, but still earned the 3-2 victory to make the final.
Long Beach edged out both Florida State and USC with 3-2 victories to earn a spot in the final. Pepperdine had beaten the 49ers all three times the teams met during the regular season, but Long Beach came through when it counted. The 49ers won two of the four matches against the Waves and the forfeit at No. 1 gave them the 3-2 victory and the program's first national title.
In the pairs competition, USC won its first title as No. 1 pair Kirby Burnham and Stevi Robinson won beat Long Beach State's Tara Roenicke and Caitlin Ledoux 2-0 in the final.
Below are the results of the team final. Portions of the matches will air on CBS Sports on May 21st and May 28th.
2013 AVCA Sand Volleyball National Championship
No. 2 Long Beach State def. No. 1 Pepperdine, 3-2
1) Caitlin Ledoux/Tara Roenicke (LBSU) def. Lilla Frederick/Jazmine Orozco (Pepp)
21-0, 21-0 via forfeit
2) Lara Dykstra/Caitlin Racich (Pepp) def. Delainey Aigner-Swesey/Chelsea Cabrajac, LBSU
16-21, 21-13, 15-9
3) Kelley Larsen/Kellie Woolever (Pepp) def. Libby Fontanilla/Bre Mackie (LBSU)
4) Lauren Minkel/Jocelyn Neely (LBSU) def. Victoria Adelhelm/Taylor Racich (Pepp)
21-19, 9-21, 15-10
5) Tyler Jackson/Janisa Johnson (LBSU) def. Emily Cook/Katie Messing (Pepp)
If you were wondering how long it might take for Phil Dalhausser and Sean Rosenthal to become contenders, the answer is no time at all. The pair finished atop the podium in the very first FIVB open event of the season in Fuzhou, China over the weekend. They are now competing in the FIVB's first Grand Slam event in Shanghai so we'll see if they can do the same on back-to-back weekends.
Phil and Rosie beat Nicolai & Lupo of Italy 21-18, 24-22 in the final after a three set semi against Ricardo & Alvaro-Filho of Brazil. At least one top Brazilian team had to pull out of the tournament early. Alison and Emanuel forfeited due to an injury to Alison's finger. They will not compete this weekend in Shanghai either.
Dalhausser and Rosenthal were the only American men to make the semifinal. All of the other American men pairs were eliminated before the quarterfinals. Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson went the furthest, losing in the Round of 16 to Austrians Huber & Seidl. Todd Rogers & Ryan Doherty lost to those same Austrians in three sets in the first round of playoffs.
On the women's side, Chinese pair Xue & Zhang Zi won the gold, beating Liliana & Baquerizo of Spain in two very quick sets. They are the team to beat thus far as they won every match they played in straight sets. There were no American women in the medal round. Jen Kessy & April Ross made it to the quarterfinals only to lose to Holtwick & Semmler of Germany in a three set squeaker 15-21, 25-23, 13-15.
The Shanghai Grand Slam began on Tuesday with Dalhausser/Rosenthal, Nick Lucena/Brad Keenan and Gibb/Patterson competing on the men's side. The American women competing are Kessy/Ross, Jennifer Fopma/Brooke Sweat and Emily Day/Brittany Hochevar. Competition concludes on Sunday.
The Chinese Federation announced the hiring of Lang Ping as the new head coach of the women's national team. As a player she was a legend known as the Iron Hammer. She's also the main reason the U.S. women's team does not yet have a gold medal. She snatched it from their grasp at the LA Olympics in 1984.
Lang has also spent time coaching in the U.S. both at the college and international levels. She was the USA women's team head coach for the 2008 Olympics and led the U.S. women to a silver medal in Beijing. This will be her second stint with the Chinese women. Under her guidance they won silver at the 1996 Olympics and at the 1998 World Championships.
China made the quarterfinal round at the 2012 London Olympics but lost in a heartbreaker to Japan in five sets to finish out of the medals. Lang hopes to bring the Chinese back to prominence in women's volleyball. If anyone can do it, it's the Iron Hammer. Keep an eye on this team in the upcoming quad.
Long Beach State was playing well. Really well. Well enough to beat Stanford in three and UCI in a five set marathon. Well enough to make it to the MPSF Conference Tournament final and to hang with BYU for three sets even with all the Cougar hitters firing on all cylinders. Though they lost in three, two of those sets could have easily ended differently. Because they didn't, Long Beach will not compete in the Final Four. UCI will make the trip to LA and join Loyola-Chicago and Penn State for a chance at another title.
Is it fair? Not really. But that's men's volleyball and the at-large bid.
Not that UCI didn't deserve this chance. They put together a very good season in which they beat Long Beach three out of four times. Their only loss to the 49ers was by the narrowest of margins. UCI just barely came in ahead of Long Beach in some of the other categories the selection committee looks at like overall record, home and away results and results against other qualified teams.
Though Long Beach actually beat BYU once this year and UCI did not, it wasn't enough to put the 49ers over the top when UCI led in several of the other categories. Had they taken BYU to five sets, the committee might have had to choose the 49ers over UCI. But while it can be argued that Long Beach was playing better volleyball than the Anteaters at season's end, it can't quite be argued that Long Beach had a better overall season than UCI.
Therefore, I have no problem with UCI receiving the at-large bid this year. I'll never be a fan of this system, I'd love to see a small but authentic playoff system for men's volleyball. But seeing as this is how it works for now, I think the committee made the right decision. UCI is absolutely capable of beating BYU or at least giving us a great match to watch on Saturday should both teams survive the semis. BYU is the better team, but as we know from experience, that means nothing when everything is on the line and it's win or go home.
Ah, how I love the playoffs.
After a weekend of epic conference tournament matches, it is clear that this year's field of men's volleyball teams is intensely competitive. No. 1 BYU was the clear favorite and last week I said there was a decent chance they'd get upset in the MPSF Conference tournament. I was wrong about that, but it was close. The Cougars went five sets with No. 8 Hawaii in the MPSF quarterfinals. In the semi against UCLA they lost the first two sets and the Bruins were leading 7-1 before BYU turned it around and took the match in five. Both of those matches could have gone either way.
The final was the only three set match of the weekend as BYU took down Long Beach State. But it was certainly not an easy win. Long Beach was playing very steady, leading for most of the first two sets and hanging with BYU even when they were playing their best. But BYU always managed to catch up and finish the set the way only a championship-caliber team can. That kind of solid play bodes well for BYU's chances to win the school's first title since 2004. But this Final Four will be no cakewalk.
UCI received the at-large bid and earned the No. 2 seed in the tournament. Though they lost to Long Beach State in a thrilling five set match that ended at 22-20 in the fifth. Though they lost both regular season matches to BYU in four and five sets, the last time the two met was in early March. A lot has changed since then and UCI has a chance to knock the Cougars off and become the first team to win back-to-back national titles since UCLA pulled it off in 1995 and 1996.
UCI will meet MIVA champs Loyola Chicago, a team making its first ever appearance in the NCAA semifinals. Loyola beat Lewis, the midwest favorite in another back and forth five set match but ran away with set five behind the play of Joseph Smalzer, the MIVA Conference Player of the Year who was also named the Most Outstanding Player in the conference tournament. This should be an interesting match. These two teams will meet for the first time this season so we should see an interesting match up that both teams have to figure out as they go.
Penn State easily won its EIVA Conference tournament by beating both Princeton and Harvard in three sets each. The Nittany Lions aren't as strong this year as they have been in previous seasons, but they are obviously playing well right now and feeling good about the way they disposed of their conference opponents as they head into the semis against No. 1 BYU. I don't think the Nittany Lions have what it takes to compete with a team like BYU, but that's not to say they can't win. It would be the upset of the century if they did though.
The matches begin this Thursday at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion. Saturday's final will air live on ESPNU.
Matches to Watch:
Thursday, May 2nd
All Matches Held at UCLA
6 PM - No. 2 UCI vs. No. 3 Loyola-Chicago
8 PM - No. 1 BYU vs. No. 4 Penn State