Volleyball in May

This time of year is meant for attending graduations, weddings, state track meets and baseball games, so it felt eerily strange walking to the Devaney Center a week ago for volleyball, wearing my Husker t-shirt to watch Team USA team compete in the FIVB Volleyball Nations League 3-day tournament, a roster that featured three former Nebraska All-Americans.
Jordan Larsen (age 31), Kelsey Robinson (25) and Justine Wong-Orantes (22) all played crucial minutes, helping No. 2 in the world USA go 2-1 in the tournament as they attempt to reload after capturing the silver medal at the 2016 Olympics.
While it was amazing to watch the pure power and athleticism of these female athletes, it was also fascinating to listen to some of the foreign players’ conversations from our seats in the third row, right by the net.
I assume a lot of these girls from the three different countries know a little bit of English in order to communicate with the officials, but amongst themselves, during and after rallies, was pure native tongue.
Following Turkey’s first tournament win over Italy on Tuesday, one of the Turkish assistant coaches took out his phone and video taped the court and the Devaney Center in a 360 degree circle, some of us in the crowd waving as he came around to face us. We were surprised and a little sad when he told us his wife was having a baby that same day, presumably back home in Turkey.
The court was lined with a short barrier with lighted video boards on the inside, and there were cameras everywhere, some positioned around the court for replays, others for the live broadcast that was streamed online.
The national anthems were special, although Poland’s went on for what seemed like five minutes.
The announcer, at times, was difficult to understand, but the DJ played music between points, shutting it down when the server hit the ball. And timeouts were only a little over 30 seconds long, players though not permitted to go back onto the court until the whistle blew.
USA coach Karch Kiray was very matter-of-fact, very unemotional, standing the entire time on the sidelines, observing, taking a few notes, soaking it all in.
As for the play itself, it was above and way beyond what I’ve ever witnessed before in person. The European teams were basically pure strength and muscle, most serving bullets, hitters for the most part just trying to crush the air out of the ball against opposing blockers. Poland and Turkey had some exceptionally tall players that caused matchup problems for the Americans.
The USA team was a mixture of strength and finesse, and it turns out they had only a couple practices together the week before in California.
Jordan was the obvious leader on the team, having played in two Olympics already. Her game is one of power and finesse, and she is an exceptional six-rotation player. Robinson played at the net except in the finale against Italy when she went the whole way as the libero, doing a decent enough job but providing a much needed spark with her constant enthusiasm.
And Justine, still learning and getting adjusted to this level of play, improved as time went along.
The roster featured other players who attended college at Minnesota, Penn State, California, Oregon, Illinois, Pepperdine, Purdue, Florida, Texas and Stanford.
All in all, it was a great tournament. Turkey finished up 3-0 in pool play, while Team USA finished second.
Karch said following the match that he would like to have the tournament return to Lincoln next year, which prompted a final loud cheer from fans as they filed out of the arena into a beautiful May evening.
Yep, definitely much better than going to a wedding.
DAVE BRADLEY can be reached at advertising@hamilton.net.

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