USA volleyball head coach says team is “preparing for uncertainty”
|USA head coach Karch Kiraly|
-photo by FIVB
The USA Women’s Volleyball Olympic roster was made public this morning (see: USA Volleyball reveals Rio roster.) This afternoon, we spent a few minutes talking with Head Coach Karch Kiraly, for a Seattle Times feature we’re preparing in advance of the Rio Olympics. We covered a lot of topics, including a few things that won’t be in the upcoming article. We thought we’d share a few of gems that we’ll have to leave out of the main story:
On the timing of today’s roster announcement
The USA Men’s Olympic team was announced three weeks ago, on June 21. Kiraly says he was advised to name the 12 members of the women’s team as early as possible. But, he says, injuries to one or more players made a delay inevitable. “We would have liked to reveal our lineup earlier,” says Kiraly, “but we didn’t really have a choice.”
While Kiraly declined to name the injured player or players, libero Kayla Banwarth missed several matches during the just-completed World Grand Prix. She returned, however, for the final two matches against Russia and Brazil, and seemed to be in good form. Although USC grad Natalie Hagglund filled in for Banwarth during her absence, Banwarth is the only libero on the Rio roster.
On players not selected to go to Rio
“It’s very difficult,” Kiraly says. “These athletes make incredible sacrifices, and it’s hard to tell them they aren’t on the (Olympic) roster.”
Few understand the years of often-lonely commitment it takes to be among the top 18 or so athletes in the USA gym in an Olympic year. I asked whether players bond over that shared isolation, similar to soldiers who realize no one but their platoon really understands what they’ve gone through. “Not exactly,” says Kiraly. “Soldiers take everyone in their unit to the battlefield. We don’t get to do that.”
On his team’s composure
One of the most impressive episodes of the recent 13-match, month-long World Grand Prix took place in a preliminary match against China in Hong Kong. USA served, and China appeared to win the first point of the set. But when the wrong Chinese player stepped up to the service line, the point was given instead to USA, and Kim Hill went back to serve. The match, however, was interrupted for a discussion between the referee, the scorekeeper and China head coach Jenny Lang Ping. One minute turned into two, then three, then four.
All the while, Hill remained calm and focused. Her teammates were likewise relaxed … no eye-rolling, no gesturing, no displays of irritation. The delay stretched to five minutes, six minutes. Kiraly was certainly not happy, but he never showed it. “We know things will come up that we’ve never seen before,” he told us. “But we will be the best we can be under whatever stress we face. Our job is to prepare for as much uncertainty as we can.”
Finally, after seven long minutes, the whistle blew. Hill served. An ace.
On playing in Rio
During our conversation, Kiraly was most excited when talking about competing in Rio’s historic Maracanãzinho Arena. “A volleyball cathedral,” says Kiraly. “That gym means volleyball to anyone who know about volleyball in Brazil.”
“Brazil is absolutely crazy about volleyball—indoor, outdoor, women’s men’s,” he says. “This will be the best volleyball Olympics ever.”
We’ll have much more from Kiraly—and USA players and coaches—in the weeks ahead. Stay tuned.
COURT & SPARK DOCUMENTARY
We’re happy to report that the Puget Sound Region of USA Volleyball will soon be releasing our documentary, Court & Spark, via several streaming services, including iTunes and Amazon. The hour-long documentary stars two-time Olympian Courtney Thompson, and features several players selected to the Rio roster, plus coach Karch Kiraly.
We’ll soon pass along details about how you can order your copy of Court & Spark. 100% of the proceeds go to Puget Sound Region of USA Volleyball and its many youth and adult indoor and outdoor programs.