Archive for January, 2015

Asian Girls (U17) Volleyball Championships – part 3: Australia

January 5, 2015

So now that I’ve written about what we did before the tournament, and how other teams went, how did our team (Australia) finish?

We came last. We lost 2 games in pool play to the Philippines and India. Both were winnable and we were 2-1 sets up in each game but managed to lose in 5 sets. The wins would have put us into the top 8. To add salt into the wound we finished last behind a team that was disqualified for playing 3 players who had previously competed at an AVC Youth event.

It was disappointing but we made good progress in reinventing the way we play – Being able to receive serve closer to the net; being able to better defend attacks that are not hard driven; playing a faster offense. As I like to say to our head coach this is more than just a team or squad but a modernisation project.

Some highlights were when we played well and could go toe-to-toe with our opponents. Executing a game plan well and rattling China enought to call a timeout against us was great too. Sadly I feel that given our result the way we think the game should be moving in Australia won’t be picked up.

What I got out of this is how much better at competing players from other countries were. I have some thoughts on this:

  • A significant number of our players didn’t play much indoor competition this year. In fact for some of them, all the indoor games they played had been on tour with our program. They trained at a high level but didn’t play many games. The rest of our players played in fairly low level competition. Only three players in our squad signed up for Australian Volleyball League. In contrast our opponents were exposed to high level competition. Thailand’s Pimpichaya Kokram played in the Thai national league alongside and against members of the senior women’s national team who finished 4th in WGP last year!
  • School volleyball is a big part of volleyball in Australia. State volleyball (AJVC) feels like a step up and is also a big part of volleyball in Australia. But it wasn’t until I was exposed to international competition that I could appreciate the massive gap there was between our domestic junior competitions and international competitions. And having low nets and 12 sub rule makes it harder to adjust. From watching Thai school teams with 13-14 year olds train and play against us: they always used 3 receivers forcing kids to pass large areas of the court; they learned how to play fast tempo early; played 6 sub rule and had to find solutions when the setter was front court; and most importantly the net was always full height. In short, their “school volleyball” translated better to their higher level volleyball than ours did. On our second-to-last day we played a game against Sura Nari’s junior team (13-14 year olds) I was refereeing and took a photo of their players and ours at the net to highlight the height difference. While we as Australians argue about whether having the net at full height for 15-year-olds would turn them off from the game, Thai people have no issue getting much smaller 13 and 14 year olds to play on a full height net. Perhaps they see adversity as an opportunity to grow and learn instead of a bar that needs to be lowered. Or maybe they’re just too lazy to change the height of the net.
I'm embarrassed to say that as Australians we're more worried about whether our taller 15-yar-old girls will enjoy volleyball on a full height net that Thai people are about their much smaller 13 year olds playing on a full height net.

I’m embarrassed to say that as Australians we’re more worried about whether our taller 15-year-old players will enjoy volleyball on a full height net that Than people are about their much smaller 13 year olds playing on a full height net.

Australian coach Huy Nguyen meets Vietnamese referee Huy Nguyen.... no one seemed more amused by this than me...

Australian coach Huy Nguyen meets Vietnamese referee Huy Nguyen…. no one seemed more amused by this than me…

Asian Girls (U17) Volleyball Championships – part 2: The Big 4

January 4, 2015

I previously wrote about China, Japan, Korea, Chinese Taipei and Thailand at the AVC U19 championships. This time, in my follow up to my post about the AVC U17 championships, I will focus on China, Japan, Korea and Thailand. Taipei regularly makes the top 5 with the rest, but I didn’t get much of a chance to watch them play at U17s. Just like at U19s, China, Korea, Japan and Thailand played off for the medals. For ease, I have placed the teams referred to on the close side of the net.

General impressions

  • The teams float serve hard, with many players able to put a floating ball to consistently land in the back metre of the court just clearing the net by centimetres. It was common to see teams receive below 50% positive
  • The offence is not always wide. It was common to see fast outside balls set to 30cm to a metre inside the antenna. The good spikers were drilled to make adjustments and play good angles to make use of a hittable ball that stayed in tempo.
  • Combinations using an outside hitter or opposite to attack in the middle zone were common. A simple solution for the fact many teams didn’t have hitters who could kill the ball consistently in all 5 zones.
  • All star awards were just weird with the winners of the best and 2nd best middle blocker awards both being players who played as passer-hitters. Seriously, compare the awards published with the videos below!

Korea (4th)

The smallest of the 4 semi-finalists, Korea relied on it’s Middle attackers #3 An, #4 Kim and #9 Jeong, where the mis-match at the net was minimalised. Out of system, the team relied on diminutive outside hitters #10 Ko Minji (who won the Best Outside Hitter award), and #18 Yoo. Korea was also one of 2 teams with a dedicated scout (the same scout Korea had at U19s), and implemented a great plan against Thailand to take a much stronger team to five sets. Unfortunately they fell ever so close and couldn’t back it up against China the next day losing the Bronze medal.

China (3rd)

The tallest of the 4 semifinallists. The standout on the team was 14-year-old #1 Li Ying Ying – A left handed outside hitter who led the scoring in just about every game she played, she probably deserved the best outside spiker award, but somehow managed to win best Middle Blocker (Perhaps a nod to the time Russian setting great Vyacheslav Zaitsev won the Best Receiver in the 1977 World Cup).

Towering Chinese outside hitters #3 Han Wenya (left) and #1 Li Ying Ying (right)

Towering Chinese outside hitters #3 Han Wenya (left) and #1 Li Ying Ying (right)

China was big but seemed less advanced than the other 3 teams. They were slower and played the simpler system with less variation. Their attack tendencies were more predictable and their attackers had a limited (but still formidable) range of shots. While the team that played ay U19s was serious and all business, this team seemed a lot more playful and friendlier – they would talk to the other teams, take photos with them and even swap uniforms on the last night.

* * *

One of the odd quirks at AVC tournaments is the occasional requirement for each team to perform a musical number on stage at the opening ceremony. I think it’s a weird Asian thing and happens at all sorts of other events. While this used to happen more frequently, it’s becoming less common and we weren’t required to perform this time.  This didn’t stop China from volunteering (yes folks, this actually happened). And for the life of me I have no idea why our team volunteered after with a bizarre rendition of “Land Downunder”. Anyhow, i digress.

* * *

Out of a combination of pride and youthful confidence, China managed to take a much stronger Thailand to 5 sets  in the crossover round, before being methodically dismantled by Japan in the semi finals. They were able to finish strong with a win over Korea for the Bronze medal.

Thailand

What can I say? They were awesome to watch and on paper possibly the best team with an unstoppable offence when they got going. No other team created as much time pressure on their opponents as Thailand. The reception or dig was usually low and tight to the net, and the ball came out fast to the outside or middle. They had 3 players who were starters  in the U19 team that lost the Bronze medal at AVC in July in 5 sets – #1 Anisa (Libero), #9 Chutchuon Moksri and #12 Pimpichaya Kokram. Chutchuon had been in the Thai World Champs team that competed in Italy earlier in the month! Pimpichaya won best opposite attacker (deservingly, scoring 20 kills in the semi-final and 15 kills in the  gold medal match), while Chutchuon won 2nd best outside hitter and setter #13 Natthanicha Chaisan won best setter.

They played in the rotation with the middle following the setter. They were simply fun to watch because of their dynamic game and the large crowds they drew due to the popularity of the sport (you’ll notice the attendances are much better in the Thai scouting video). Both Korea and Japan, with scouting were able to exploit weak rotations, and put them under enough pressure to make them predictable enough to beat or get very close.

Japan

Once again Japan turned up as the most professional outfit, with the best uniforms and the best equipment, and the best scout. They didn’t seem to have anyone who was the best at anything but had the uncanny ability to collectively make the best on-court decisions time and again. Captain and opposite #5 Airi Miyabe won MVP and was simply clutch in the Gold medal match scoring off a lot of high balls. Her teammates #9 Kanoha Kagamihara won best Libero and #12 Miyu Nakagawa won 2nd best middle blocker (like China’s Li Ying Ying who won best middle blocker, Nakagawa was also an outside hitter).

Japan didn’t drop a set until the Gold Medal match, and facing an intimidating Thai offence with the competition’s 2 best spikers, came up with a game plan that did enough to help them win narrowly. Japan had the 2 best “actual” middle blockers in #4 Shiori Aratani, who received serve in EVERY rotation and #12 Haruka Sekiyama. What impressed me most about Japan is they had the deepest understanding of the game to get the best out of themselves. Where China and Thailand became one-dimensional under pressure, Japan could improvise and find a way to keep their weapons in the game.  They played a system where the middle blocker and receiver next to the opposite went off for the libero, and were somehow less confused than the other teams that played a simpler system. They also had wonderful role players, from #14 Miku Shimada who as a serving sub scored aces, and backup setter #8 Manami Mandai who closed a 6 point deficit in the semi final match to get them to 21-21 during a double sub stint.

Semi Final 1: Japan v China (Statistics)

Not much to say. The scores flatter China but they were never in it. Japan didn’t play at 100%. China looked confused out-of system, whereas Japan seemed comfortable. China (receiving at 48% positive and 36% perfect) received better than Japan (21% positive and 10% perfect), but scored much less in the middle – China’s middle blockers scored a combined 6 kils from 19 attempts while Japan’s middle blockers scored 12 from 21 attempts. Japan were just much better at scoring off reception and in transition, in fast tempo offence and in high ball situations.

Semi Final 2: Thailand v Korea (Statistics)

This was definitely the best game to watch. Korea threw everything they had at Thailand with some small unathletic looking players doing extraordinary things. Korea fell 16-14 at the very end, with both teams scoring 112 points. Korea played slightly better in attack and reception but it wasn’t enough. Korea’s effort in its combination of scouting, execution, team play and guts was just impressive, but alas, not enough. The stronger team playing below its best went through.

Bronze Medal Match: China v Korea (Statistics)

I didn’t actually see this match live as we were doing 1-on-1 meetings with the players. I watched and coded it after. Disappointingly, Korea didn’t back up their performance the night before and a proud China were determined to finish on a high.

Gold Medal Match: Japan v Thailand (Statistics)

This was a great game. We had played Thailand in a practice game and they seemed invincible. They had the two best spikers and aggressive serving to force teams to play slow. The question was could Thailand put Japan under enough pressure to prevent Japan from playing it’s game? Thailand attacked better on reception, but Japan was able to create enough transition points to stay level and win. Both teams received as well (or poorly), but Japan managed to attack more with its middles – 17 kills from 32 attacks compared with Thailand’s 4 kills from 11 attacks.

Japan had clearly prepared well. You could see their leftist blocker holding on the B-Ball not concerned about the backcourt attack. Japan didn’t neutralise Thailand’s two biggest weapons Cutchuon who scored 17 kills or Pimpichaya who scored 15 kills. Thailand really could have won. They were leading 23-22 in both the 2nd and 4th sets. Japan was just slightly better. Miyabe and Nakagawa were Japan’s best performers on 16 kills each, many off high-balls from poor reception and good defensive plays. As a sign of their flexibility, Japan moved Miyabe to Outside hitter so they could start their second opposite and reverse the 3rd set 18-25 loss to win the 4th set 26-24. The change in lineup wasn’t a big deal for them. The reception lineups changing and the libero changing for different players wasn’t a big deal. Japan’s maturity, adaptability and understanding of the game were just phenomenal.