When USA Volleyball does something right, we have to give credit where credit is due. Right about now, the folks that make up our organizing body are looking like geniuses. No kidding.
As volleyball fans, we spend a lot of time complaining about USAV. What they do, how they do it, who they have or don't have doing it, when they do it, why they do it. We do this for good reason. Because we care about the state of the game, about growing it and about making it better. On that, we can all agree. What we can't seem to agree on is how to go about doing it.
Last week, USAV did something right. The NORCECA event that concluded on Saturday with the USA men qualifying for London was hands down the best thing I've ever seen in my my 20+ years of watching and playing in USAV events. If you weren't able to make it, you really missed something special.
The genius part started with stepping in when an opportunity arose. Puerto Rico had a scheduling conflict that rendered them unable to host the NORCECA qualifier. USAV smartly offered to host the matches in Long Beach, just 20 minutes from the training facility in Anaheim. The Pyramid was a great choice for these matches. Not too big, not too small, great volleyball community, centrally located and easy to get to from almost anywhere in SoCal.
They pulled it together with help from sponsors like UPS, who they couldn't thank enough for their support. They had no idea if they'd be able to draw decent crowds for this event. Volleyball fans don't always show up. Though our teams rarely get to play at home, sometimes the fans leave them hanging out to dry. USAV took the risk. They got a lot of help from some very motivated fans who took attendance and enthusiasm into their own hands by organizing events, providing signs and changing the way we cheer for volleyball. That teamwork led to a fresh, new fan experience.
But USAV gets all the credit for how it handled the tournament itself. It was well-run from start to finish. They made sure the team, the media and the fans had everything they needed. They had these little cowbells made with the USAV logo on them and handed them out to fans. So instead of the usual silence between plays, you could hear a chorus of cowbells ringing every time the opposing team served. It kept people excited and involved the entire match and changed the whole atmosphere of the final match. Seriously. The cowbell thing? Genius. Whoever came up with that idea deserves a raise.
If you were there, you witnessed history. The first time that the American men's volleyball team has ever qualified for the Olympics on our own home soil. That was special. More special still for the fans who watched the tournament from beginning to end, was bearing witness to what will go down as the week when things finally started to come together for the men's team. We saw the team begin to gel right before our eyes.
Should they medal in London, they will look back at what happened this past week and say that this event was the start of it all. They began the tournament as a bunch of guys who just got back together and were still trying to find their stride. They finished the tournament as a unified team stepping into what could very well be greatness.
You know who else might end up looking like a genius when this is all over? Head Coach Alan Knipe. Though you may take issue with how long it took him to pick a setter, you can't argue with the result. These guys are coming together at exactly the right time. Their heads are in the right place. They have a starting setter. And if anything should happen to that starting setter, they have two other guys who have received more than a significant amount of playing time who can step in relatively seamlessly.
Despite all the second guessing we, the media and fans subject it to, USAV pulled off something here that is deserving of praise. It was an experience that no one will soon forget - not the players, not the coaches, not the fans.
The success of this event could have an impact on the future of the sport as well. It could be the beginning of more big events being hosted in the U.S., which would be a very welcome change. Kudos to USAV. Let's do that again sometime soon.