July 15, 2013
Written by UCF head coach Todd Dagenais
It was a super day for the USA Junior National A-1 team. We started the day with a 10 a.m. match vs. the host team Croatia Pula. Their head coach is a very popular and powerful figure here in Croatia. I thought we could have some trouble when we drew the host team in the opening match. My fear only grew when we discovered that the referee was the head coach's daughter and the official score keeper was warming up their libero!
All fears were put to rest when we quickly raced out to a 7-1 lead in the first set. Our officiating was very good, and everyone was very professional. I was proud of our team because we beat the host squad handily, but we also won with a ton of class and respect. Every single player entered the match and did their part to collect the victory.
We then returned for our 4 p.m. match vs. the Czech Republic. We had split a match with them back in Slovenia, and we got to know them on the five hour trip from Slovenia to Croatia. The two teams spent time talking and learning about each other through the entire experience. I was anxious to see how we would respond to playing them. Once again we raced out to a lead of 10-1 and never looked back. The Czech team only scored nine points, and we had eight errors. That means they only had one kill the entire set. We struggled through a victory in set two, but then dominated the third set for the sweep.
The 11-team format of the tournament is a bit different than any other I have participated in. There is a USA group and a European group. The USA Teams will each play four of the six teams in the European group, and the European group will play four of the five American teams. The top three USA and top three European teams will advance to the medal round, with the top team from each side automatically earning a spot in the Championship Semifinals.
Our primary objective is clear; we want to win our pool and get that bye!!!! We are guaranteed to play for a medal if we can achieve our goal. At 6-0 in sets and six points on the board, we are leading our pool at the halfway point. We control our own destiny and that's all we can ask for.
The team went back to the hotel for a pool training session to help with lactic acid recovery. Then they will get dinner and get to bed early. The coaches will be scouting tomorrow's opponents so we are prepared to play at our best. Our matches are at 10 a.m. (4 a.m. Eastern) and 7 p.m. (1 p.m. Eastern). We have all adjusted to the time change well, but we are still trying to acclimate to the 90 degree humid weather with no air conditioning :). This is a great lesson in international travel for our young aspiring National Team players!