US women hold off scrappy Netherlands team in 5 sets
ABS-CBN Sports on Aug 09, 2016 10:39 AM
United States' Kim Hill (15) spikes the ball as Netherlands' Yvon Belien (3) and Anne Buijs (11) block during a Women's preliminary volleyball match at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, Aug. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
AP Sports Writer
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — This past year in Istanbul, U.S. assistant coach Jamie Morrison worked right alongside a man he considers among the best volleyball minds in the business.
And fired-up, Italian-born Netherlands coach Giovanni Guidetti is suddenly making quite a splash in Brazil with group of tenacious Dutch women determined to spoil the fun for the top teams in the tournament. Even if few might have expected them to contend while playing in their first Olympics in 20 years.
Morrison was an assistant on Guidetti's staff at club power Vakifbank in Turkey, coaching Olympians Lonneke Sloetjes, Anne Buijs and Robin de Kruijf and also U.S. outside hitter Kim Hill, who through the net saw several familiar faces.
So, when the top-ranked Americans received a real push from the Netherlands in a hard-fought, five-set victory Monday, Morrison and the rest of the U.S. group were nowhere near surprised by the stellar display on the other side. The Dutch had already spoiled China's Olympic debut Saturday, then the Chinese bounced back with a straight-set win over Italy.
"They're not intimidated by anybody now, and they shouldn't be. They're good," said U.S. coach Karch Kiraly, who figures the group winners won't go unscathed. "And that's great, because the Olympics are about being good."
Guidetti credits Morrison — someone he considers above an assistant — for helping him become a better coach.
"I learned a lot from him and I hope I can keep learning a lot from him," Guidetti said after the match. "He's an amazing coach. He's an amazing man and he knows volleyball very well.
"He's like a lead guy. I'm really trying to learn every time from the people that can teach me, and he's for sure one of the ones that can teach me."
The U.S. rallied from one set down and again behind 2-1 to win 18-25, 25-18, 21-25, 25-20, 15-8 on a day Netherlands captain Maret Balkestein-Grothues had to be helped off midway through the fourth set with a right ankle injury and didn't return.
Simple communications were made before the match.
Such close international connections are commonplace in a sport that has no professional league in the U.S. for men or women, meaning players move across the world for eight months of the year to play professionally.
"I looked across the net and we were smiling before the match," Morrison said. "A head nod, nothing more than that, not a hug."
You bet the Americans envisioned this success for the Netherlands, a squad Morrison has seen make big strides in a matter of weeks ahead of the Olympics.
"Volleyball has come enormously far in the Netherlands in the past two years," he said. "The team is up and coming and the support in their country is as well."
Post-match, beach and indoor gold medalist Kiraly was "getting goosebumps on top of my goosebumps" thinking about the important test the Americans had just received Monday.
The first-pumping, hard-clapping Guidetti lost his voice during the opening match and animatedly bounced around the court again. His example of passion, a desire to learn every day to make everyone around him better, has been a positive influence on the 35-year-old Morrison.
He coached on the gold-medal winning men's Olympic staff in 2008 under Hugh McCutcheon and an assistant again as McCutcheon moved to lead the women to silver four years ago in London.
Now, he's one of Kiraly's right-hand men. When Morrison is not in Turkey with Guidetti, that is.
When it came to scouting the Netherlands and other pool opponents — a six-team group Kiraly called "truly gnarly" — in the Olympic lead-up back at training headquarters in Orange County, everyone took part. Morrison said it was a collaborative effort involving the athletes that led to lots of insight into how to attack the Dutch.
"They pushed us," U.S. middle blocker Foluke Akinradewo said afterward. "That's what we love. We try and embrace those moments."