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Coach Lorne's Fall 2013 Blog

Coach Lorne Sawula was invited to the FIVB Women’s U23 World Championship in Tijuana: Rule changes will be tested at the FIVB Volleyball U23 World Championships Open, which take place in Tijuana, Mexico for women from October 5 to 12 and in Uberlandia, Brazil for men from October 6 to 14, with an eye to modernizing volleyball and making it more appealing for fans both onsite and through television. The two rules being tested will see A) sets played to 21 points instead of the customary 25 and B) an interval of 15 seconds between the referee’s whistle and the serve. To win a set (except the deciding fifth set, which remains unchanged) is won by the team which first scores 21 points with a minimum lead of two points. In the case of a 20-20 tie, play is continued until a two-point lead is achieved. The subsequent change to the time outs sees one 60-second “Technical Time-Out” applied automatically when the leading team reaches the 12th point as opposed to two previously when the leading team reached the 8th or 16th point.                   


The first match of the day was a bit more competitive than expected but Brazil prevailed 3-1 over Germany. This was the first time in years that they have not been in the top 4 of any aged competition so the motivation was not there and the players went through the motions with their eventual skill level taking over in the match. On another day and in another tournament this team may find its stride and perform the way that was expected of them. 

The second match of the day was disappointing because the Italians decided to rest their tall 2.02 player who was a bit tired. She did not play in the day before when they played very well and beat Brazil. Their ‘statistician’ told me that she was probably going to play today. Give the Turks credit because my gut said they would be tough. I just figured that with the big right side back and the ‘sting’ from the previous loss that they would come to play.  However, they had a few moments and could not duplicate their previous day performance and got bounced 3-0.

The problem was that the Turks did not come down to their level and ran fast middle slides. There were a few moments of pressure for them but they handled it well.  Talking with their coach, after the match, he said that they had continued to improve in every game that they played. They are not all starters on their clubs because of having foreign players so this is another important learning step for them. Their middle and right side are strong potential for their future within the National Program.  Turkey in Europe is one of the rising volleyball nations and are becoming a force. Glenn Hoag, our Canadian Men’s coach, works in Turkey during the Sept to April club season. The Turkish coaching staff knew of Glenn and his high level of expertise. Glenn has long said that Turkey is on the right track with strong developmental systems for their players. So a 5th place finish is not bad. They had about 20 days of preparation but had to go back and forth because their clubs had started and they had some home  ‘cup’ matches to play in before they left.

The first of the medal matches brought a rising US team against the skilled Japanese players. Japan controlled the first match with stellar play. He started the setter that did not play the day before when they lost to China. I think this Japanese team was the hardest for teams to prepare a game plan for because he used all his 12 players to start at one time or another. The USA setter could not duplicate her performance with those fast slides that she had kept them in their match against the Dominicans yesterday. However, she ran fast 31’s and fast shoots & slides with varied degrees of success. They did win the 2nd set by blocking down the Japanese and they got to #18 who made some serve receive mistakes. She would be the target for serves if teams had did their homework beforehand. However, Japan ran a few more X’s and some good 32-B combinations with their powers and middles. Defense again won them the day and their powers played very well executing through the seam and off hands. In the end the USA played a reasonable match and both their middles show good promise. They are not overly tall but jump very well. The setter has a ‘touch’ for the speed sets but needs more work on broken passes and how to make them useable for her attackers. 

All teams can score if you pass the ball well and the USA was strong with their peripheral speed sets and use of the middle attackers. However, the best teams can take a bad pass and still convert it into something that an attacker can swing on. Japan was masters this. The Japanese libero was special and is a role model for all those people who think that this position is actually the second ‘quarterback’ on the team.  She was unique in the way that she always set off her right foot, lifting her left foot because that was the one that might be a foot fault if she was setting the second ball. She always face position #2 and back set to power, if that was her objective. All the Japanese players were masters of using the underhand pass to initiate a set for an attacker to hit. This team was every bit deserving of their bronze medal. 

The Gold Medal match was a lesson for the Dominicans. They will only continue to improve and China kept them totally off balance. China’s middles were special as they ran ‘individual’ time differential sets. Some were what we call a pump – come 51 but wait for a 52 set or come for a 31 or C and then peal off to run a second tempo set away from that area. However, the Dominicans led by their right side player had their moments and came back at the end of the first two sets to make it close. And the t set was actually theirs but it got away. They came back from being down 24-21 to tie it up and had two chances to score but their 16-year-old 2.00 m power could not find the court and only the Chinese blocker’s hands. They didn’t tip at the end and forced China to their wits end before they called it a day. It was about 1 hr. and 20 minutes for 3 sets of good volleyball.

All in all it was a good tournament with a surprisingly high level of play. I think the U23’s will be run again with more time for teams to prepare and for time to use this competition for the developmental of players coming from the Jr World level to the next step of World senior events. Canada has to dearly think of how they can get involved in all the levels of competition that FIVB offers and not just the Senior level. 

In the end, I think, that I was out one match on my predictions and if I would have gone with my ‘gut’ I would have gone with Turkey but alas it was a decision made on faulty information. Sometimes when the ‘magic’ carpet flies one should go on it until it falls down. Turkey had the momentum and they are still flying high. 

Congratulations to all the teams and I think that the top 3 were those that got there in the end. They had the best libero players and the highest level of offensive and defensive integration and team performance. Combine that with players that were very skilled and you have the ingredients to have excellent volleyball. You will see potential National Senior team players who make it to the World Grand Prix, World Championships and Olympic Games from the players that were in this competition. 

Now back to the real world,


Oct 11th Update:

Good Evening:

An easy win for TUR as GER had no transition offence after digging. Very simple volleyball and superb blocking by Turkey put them down early and easily each match. Germany was a tired team while Turkey got stronger as the match went along. Germany is not a strong team although they probably will finish 8th, after they have to play Brazil tomorrow. Brazil can play better than they showed today and have a lot more experience than Germany, so expect a Brazilian victory.

Brazil lost 3-0 but in a closer contested match against Italy.Brazil's Jr National Team players were no match for the experienced Italians today. The Italian Right side tower (2.02 tall) was the difference. She is one of the few players in the competition with a spin serve and she used it well. Italy gained points when she served, except for the couple that she missed and they were not at bad momentum times.

Tomorrow the Turkey - Italy match may go the distance again. I would expect that Italy has something to prove since they lost in 5 to Turkey in the preliminary pool. However, Turkey is one of the better blocking teams and so is Italy. Both have fast 'slides/steps' with their middles from reception and defensive transition. 

In the Semi's the first match with Dominican vs USA was a bit lack luster in the first two sets. Dominican controlled the match until late in both sets when the US made a run at them. However, the Dominicans managed to stay in control and #20 has one of her better matches. The US Setter and her middles were the main offence for the USA. They ran very efficient and fast slides to the antenna and fast 'A's' and '31's' during transition. They had good chemistry together but were let down by their outside attackers who were very average. If the USA would have one the 3rd set there might have been more pressure on the Dominicans but with an American attack missed the 3rd set was over, when it, at first, looked to be a USA victory. 

The second semi's was a tight match during the first two sets. Two points into over time in the first set China was able to sneak out the victory. This seemed to set the tone for them at the start of the match as they controlled the set. However, Japan fought back into it and to their setter's credit (don't ask me who the first setter is supposed to be as they started the setter that only played a 1/2 of the match during the last day and only a double sub during the other matches), #1, she served and set from being down 15-16 to go ahead 19-16 and seemed in control. I think Japan was up 24-21 in this set but managed to lose it, again in overtime. Quite unusual for them. This seemed to finally set the tone and they got blown out of the 3rd set. The first two sets were probably the best two defensive sets of the tournament. China is filled with 6 players from their World Jr team and they have a libero that is equal to the Japanese and Dominican athletes. They can block and have quickness, the only team to have middles that run 'pumps or individual time differential attacks both off serve receive and in defensive transition. I think that only 1 or 2 X'ng movements were run during the match.

So Japan gets to play the USA and this should be interesting. Both teams run a fast antenna system to both sides and if the US setter can connect with their middles again and their powers should be better as the blocking is not as good as the Dominican's. However, Japan may frustrate them with their consistency and it will depend upon which team can make the points at the right time. Will defense over come offence, that is the question!!

The finals will have China pushing the Dominican's and I think that China is too all round skilled for the Dominicans. They serve tougher and that should give the Dominican power's trouble. However, according to the stats that I saw tonight's bulletin the Dominicans are rated as the #1 defensive team - go figure.

So my predictions at the final rankings are:

1. CHI
2. DOM - another potential close match if Castillo can anchor her team
3. JPN
4. USA (closer than I think)
5. ITA
6. TUR (closer with one point at the right time can change this match around)
7. BRA (thin only match I am really sure about)
8. GER

To me the three best defensive and passing libero's are from DOM, CHI, and JPN.


Oct 10th Update:

Revision: Just looked at what I wrote late last night and saw that I didn't change the one Pool of 1-4. Because of the FIVB new point rule for placing and winning matches by 3-0 I got the matches up wrong. It is Dominican Republic vs the USA and this should be a 'heated' and emotional match as the Mexicans will side with the Dominicans here at home, now that their team is out of it. If the Dominicans can start well I would favour them in this match. In the other pool China take on the Japanese and China should be odds on to win. 

Last Day of Pool Play

Well we saved one of the best games in this pool for last but it was not the first one of the day. In that one Italy took out Argentina 3 straight and ended up 4th in the Tijuana Pool. For the match for first place it was supposed to be easier for Japan as they played Turkey. Turkey lost 3-0 to Dom Republic but beat Italy 3-2 in their first match of the tournament. Add the other wins that both had and if Japan lost then Dominican Republic would be first and either Turkey or Japan would be 2nd. 

I think as long as I am in volleyball it is hard to predict how a match will end up or how the road map will be to get to the finish. Japan started down 3 or 4 points in the first set and rallied to get back to 23-24 but then lost 25-23 on a debated net touch or lack of one for Japan. Turkey was playing really well with a game plan of:
- serve #18 (Power) for Japan
- play rotational defense with the line digger under the block
- block line vs the Japanese powers and dig cross court
- attack quickly in transition with middles
- involve their powers with line attacks
- bring in the pipe hitter when it counts 
- stay after #18 with the serve and attack, don’t tip, when sets are good

Japan was struggling a bit but still found ways to recover. They eventually got the lead in the 2nd but at the end Turkey came back and almost got back into it. However, Japan showed their poise and held on to win.  So now it is 1-1 with Japan needing 1 set to stay in the top 2 for this pool and 1st if they can win it.

The 3rd set was Turkey’s as they got on a good start and led throughout, until the end of the match. Ahead around 23-19 Japan fought back to 22-24 then finished off their changing game plan:
- move their powers with faster inside shoots
- get the ball into their middles with ‘B’ attacks (2 m for the setter)
- serve the Turkish powers line to line
- block more line and stay with the powers for release sets.

Turkey was running very fast slides to their middles, long to the antenna, and Japan was hurting. With the line to line serving the Turks did not pass as well and it allowed Japan, along with their ‘32’s to their powers in rallies to nibble their way back into the match. Moving the bigger Turkish blockers did help the Japanese gunners to find the seams and holes began to pen up. Down 24-21, I think they scored 5 points in a row (due to their service and a few forced mistakes by the Turks). There were sure some good rallies along the way. At one point the Japanese leading hitter (in the top 10 at this point for total points in the tournament), a right side, ended up setting for 3 points (actually shoots and not just high sets) to bring them back into this match. I have never seen this before, talk about universality.

So now it is 2-1 in sets for Japan and everyone thought the match was over. However, give the Turks great credit they got a 7-1 lead and then, surprise, the Japanese Coach pulled all is starters, except for the Libero and one middle, and let the others play the rest of the match. 

Needless to say there was a a 5th set which again to my surprise Japan started his 2nd setter, one of his 2nd power hitters and the rest of the starters who had come back after their rest. It seemed to cost them early as #12 (the new power) was struggling with the receive and where to be in the formations – Japan has unusual reception formations. But she eventually settled down. He had not put back in #18 who actually struggled and this seemed to take one of Turkey’s game plan ‘stones’ away. They got back into the match at 7-7 and rallied on to win the match 15-13. It was the sort of a match that makes the coach look like a hero. For the first time in the tournament he actually got up and looked like a head coach in the 3rd and part of the 5th set. But give this staff credit they had built a team and now have won with a team. The 2nd setter did a creditable job, played good defense and maybe to everyone’s surprise Japan ended up coming out on top. Even the coaches, not like Japanese who are reserved normally, bounced and jumped up and cheered, gave each other a hug, etc. when the match was won. Guess they were under pressure and nerves as well. 

21 blocks by Turkey and only 9 by Japan but each one made by Japan transferred into 2 or 3 digs. But the 31 errors recorded against Turkey vs the 17 that Japan made tells you how matches are won or lost. Errors cost points and Japan handled the pressure due to their intensity of training in the months before. Turkey had trained for 6 months for this completion and most of the athletes have been in a development system since the age of 14. The Japanese, as a team, only trained for 21 days but probably many more hours than the Turks since they were 14!

It only took 2 hours and 14 minutes to play – now you would think that everyone would think this is great as the fans were really entertained but according to sources 1 hr. and 30 minutes is all we need – go figure. But, I say but, with reservations I don’t think Japan will be able to handle the fire power coming in this next round but that is why they play the game – maybe, maybe …

The Dominicans handled the Mexican’s easily and ended up second - oh, wait, by new FIVB rules the Dominican ends up in 1st place with a 4-1 record, while Japan, with a 5-0 record, ends up in 2nd place. Turkey finished 3rd and Italy 4th. Argentina is 5th and Mexico, the host, is 6th. Apparently, you only get 2 points for a win if you win 3-2. Dominican won more matches by 3-0 so ends up first. So who cares if you win the match against everyone you play you are now in 2nd place! Head to head competition does not count.

In the Mexicali Pool China beat Kenya easily and wins the Pool. The USA came back to beat Brazil in 5 and ended up 4-1 but Brazil at 3-2 almost had the same amount of points as the US. However, in this case the USA ends up 2rd when the new tie breaking procedures (points for how you win your matches) were taken into account and Brazil will be 3rd  (as they should since they are 3-2). Germany beat Cuba 3-0 to finish 4th. Cuba is 5th and Kenya last. So in this case both B

All 4 teams begin play on Fri with Japan playing USA and Dominican playing China for the medals. I would think that the USA is favourite over Japan and between China and Dominican it is a toss up with China slightly favourite. Brazil plays Italy  (with Brazil being the favourite) and Germany plays Turkey (a toss up) for the 5-8 pool. Mexico, Argentina, Cuba and Kenya are out of the tournament finishing in 9-12 places.

Thursday is an off day and then the excitement starts again – long days for coaches and myself as they begin at noon and end around 9 at night. Unfortunately, it seems that it is going to rain all night and tomorrow. Hope the sun comes back and can you believe, I have my first ‘sniffles’ of the season – in Mexico not Canada.


Oct 9th Update:


Well it was an easy night with all matches having some excitement but all had also had a lower level of play. Both Dominican Republic and Japan did not perform at the same level as the previous day. Both libero’s were not as sharp. Japan played many 2nd line players but still managed a 3–0 set victory over Argentina. It shows the depth of their team as all players can stay on the court. Japan trained 21 days to get ready for this event – most players are in the National Team stable but have not played much on the international circuit such as the Grand Prix, etc. They are all members of clubs in the Japanese ‘V’ League. I do like their system and the small things the setter does to disguise their rotational line-up and the games they play in the heads of their opposition because of this.  They are the first Japanese team that I have seen in awhile that run a good tactical game plan based on their own strengths and their opponent’s weaknesses. Of course their ball control skills definitely help them to achieve their ends. Blocking will still be a challenge for them in the final two matches in the medal round. However, this is not a small team that we Canadians are used to seeing and thus may build on those defensive skills that we all dream about having. Their powers really move the ball around and their use of ‘cut’ and ‘spin’ shots end up in a lot of balls going around or off their opponents hands. If you want ‘patience’ then watch this team play.

I am not as much of a fan of the Dominican team as I was yesterday. They seem to have to get totally emotionally involved before they play at a high level. I am not certain that they can handle a match when there is some diversity or if a match is tight. This showed in the match vs Japan and there should be some tension in the final round of matches on Friday and Saturday. However, they have the ‘horses’ to play if they can keep themselves motivated on the court.

#20 can be an international power one moment then a 16 year old the next. She will be good, believe me, but if her passing does not improve she probably will end up on the right side. Their other power #16 is also a poor receiver and surprisingly, their libero is not passing out of ‘6’ that much – 4 out of the 6 rotations she is on the right or left side but even then she does take ½ the court forcing their opponents to go after the side of the court. The Dominicans have 3 or 4 players that are on their Senior Squad + that Libero, Castillo who, tonight, was not as technically sound as the other night. Guess that must of taken some out of her. They lost the first set to Italy (on a ball handling call) and then were down by 5 points near the end of the second before rallying to win the set. This last two set losses showed the weak mental level of the Italians because when they lost the 2nd set they had mentally lost the match and were down 7-0 in the 3rd and 8-2 in the 4th before each set and match finished. 

In the last match Turkey handled the Mexicans a 3-1 set back. Italy and Argentina play tomorrow with the winning team staying and the loser having to pack their bags. Turkey plays Japan and this match will have some dramatics as well. Turkey has to win to have any chance of creating a 3 way tie for the top spot as the Dominican’s will surely beat Mexico. So still some excitement to come.

In the Mexicali Pool, China won its match over the USA in 5 and thus basically puts them finishing in 1st place as they play Kenya tomorrow. The USA still holds a chance to make it into the final group if they can get by the Brazilians who easily defeated Germany today. Cuba played a lack luster match against Kenya winning 3-0 but in close sets. Tomorrow the winner between Germany and Cuba gets to stay while the other joins Kenya and Mexico for sure.

After the last day of matches tomorrow there is a rest day (Thursday) and then a semi’s and finals in both Pools for 1-4 and 5-8 on Friday and Saturday.


Oct 8th Update:

Hi All:

Well all the rules they talked about have not come about in this competition, much to the dismay of Italy who said they prepared to play 21 pt games and not 25 – actually think it is just excuses for ‘cratering’ to Japan yesterday. So no 15 secs between serves, no 1 Technical TO, etc. Back to normal volleyball. 

Italy’s loss yesterday was costly, as it will drop them into the 5-8 pool, most likely when it is said and done. They felt that they gave Japan the win yesterday and forgot to think that maybe Japan played well and didn’t quit. Well tonight Dominican Republic got a taste of the same medicine as they won the 1st and 3rd sets but ended up losing in 5 to those ‘pesky’ Japanese. Dominican probably has the best potential players in this group but they couldn’t match the mental toughness and execution of skill displayed by Japan tonight. When Japan evened the match 1-1 the Dominican Coach flipped his Power hitter to attempt to get #20 out of the serve receive patterns as she was struggling a wee bit. 

Remember this name, Brayelin Martinez. She is a 2.00 m, 16 year old, Power Hitter that has 3.30 spike jump credentials. However, she showed her age with a lack of mental recovery skills after she became the target for the Japanese servers. Can you believe that she is the captain of the team at 16? Along with her on this team are 3 other ‘fringe’ National Team Squad players and their National Team starting Libero Brenda Castillo who I find hard to believe that she is still only 22 years old. To me she is the most exciting libero player in the sport today – at all levels. 

For Japan #10, Yurie Nabeya, right side player had a fabulous match. She couldn’t be stopped by the big Dominican blockers. She only made one error in all of her attacks, along with 18 kills. Also their setter #1, Tashiro Kanami, was outstanding and only followed by their libero Miku Torigoe. Both players led their teams and give them every chance to win. Tonight it was the Japanese night but the Dominican’s will continue to learn. Both teams average 20 years old. 5 Japanese players have seen some action for their National Team but not in the Worlds or Olympics – I don’t know the exact level of competition for them, maybe the World Jrs. All of the Dominican’s have seen some action at a World Championship  level and 3 participated in the past Olympic Games in London.

This was a barnburner for the first match today. The second match saw Turkey control Argentina, winning easily in straight sets. In the last match of today Italy took out Mexico. Most likely Argentina and Mexico will be regulated to leave, as they will be in the 9-12 relegation. However this is not a 100% finalized yet.

In the other pool USA beat Germany in 5, China beat Cuba easily in 3 and even more easy was Brazil defeating Kenya. Most likely Kenya and Cuba will go home early. The USA Brazil match will be important as the winner will probably go forward into the final 4. 


Oct 7th Update:

The matches today here in Tijuana were not bad and it seems that the Dom Republic are coming out on top. They play a dynamic form of volleyball with great blocking and good jumpers. Their libero is by far the best in this competition. Today they beat Turkey 3-0, easily in the end. Japan came back from 2 down to out defend Italy with their floor defense. In the end it was easy as Italy got frustrated and crumbled in a match that they totally were controlling. There are still chances for ties so each set is important. Argentina beat host Mexico 3-0 but this match, although not bad, was not at the same level as the last two matches.

In the other pool USA dominated Cuba and Brazil was surprised by China. This put Brazil in a fight for the top two positions, whereas at the start they were the favorite to win the pool. Germany beat Kenya easily. 

Tomorrow's matches in both pools will be paramount in solidifying final positions. The level that I have seen so far is surprisingly good with good blocking, long rallies and some fine athletes attacking with good velocity. There are some receive mistakes but that is probably to be accepted. Most of the athletes here are not starting members for their respective National Teams but more later when I get additional info.


Oct 6th Update:

Pool A Results:

It seems that Italy's matches against DOM and JPN will be extremely important due to their 5th set 17-15 loss to TUR. TUR is not out of the woods yet as their matches against JPN and DOM will dictate which 2 of these 4 teams get to the semi's. Only the top 2 teams in each pool advance.

Pool B Results

This pool is still totally open with only KEN being out manned and over powered.

More action today starting in the late afternoon.

Only about 27 here today!

Oct 5th Update:
After some headaches got to the opening ceremonies. 12 teams fighting to be the top 2 in their pools so they would make the semi's. Teams here include Pool A: DOM, ITA, TUR, ARG, MEX, JPN, and Pool B: USA, KEN, CHN, GER, BRA, and CUB.
Competition is from Oct 5th to 12th here in Mexicali and Tijuana.
USA Coach Kiraly comments: "We have a number of players who have finished their college eligibility ... And also some players who are younger than college and have never played yet. So we have a good mix ..."
FIVB Control Committee:
"All the coaches of the teams taking part in the inaugural FIVB Women's U23 World Championships agree on the importance and necessity of this new age group in the development process of the players."