Moscow FIVB

They Don’t Make Disney Movies About People Who Don’t Go To Moscow.

Stafford and I went back and forth on whether or not to go to the Moscow FIVB 3 Star Tournament. It was an expensive trip and because all the top teams were going we would have to play in the country quota match to get into the qualifier. That meant we’d fly to Russia just to play against our fellow Americans Sean Rosenthal and Trevor Crabb, who had just beaten us easily two weeks before at the Austin AVP.

You don’t want to make decisions based on loss aversion but every once in a while the real world creeps into your mind. We were coming off two horrible international tournaments with first-round losses in both Florida and China and were not fired up about traveling across the world for potentially one match. But after dragging our feet for a few weeks, we decided to go for it. As I texted Stafford, “They don’t make Disney movies about people who don’t go to Moscow.”

It was strange preparing two weeks for one match. We had more teams to play in the qualifier and the main draw but the country quota match was the big hurdle we needed to get through first; our one guaranteed game. Adding to the pressure of this match, we didn’t land in Russia until the night before we played, without a lot of time to practice and get used to the ten-hour time change.

Discount Moneyball

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Heat map of one opponent’s side-out swings

My friend Doug English who coaches indoor at Northwest Nazarene in Idaho has been helping us with stats and video this season. Doug has done a lot of charity work to help analyze our game: what sets give us the highest side-out percentage, where we are weakest in serve receive and defense, and more objective info about our game. Doug took the video from our two previous matches against Trevor and Rosie and sent us a PowerPoint presentation that broke down where they were beating us, what we needed to do differently on our end, and strategies of attacking them. The scouting report broke down video of both Trevor and Rosie siding-out from different points along the net in the hopes of getting a feel for their tendencies. They are a great side-out team we have struggled stopping them. After crunching the numbers, Doug gave us this encouraging news, “You might have to side-out at over 80% to beat them.”

On our side, the game plan was simple. We had to hit the ball. Hard. They had beaten us in Austin running down my soft shots. Our plan was to set aggressive and swing away.

So I rolled up my newly purchased compression socks and flew across the world to Russia. On the day of the country quota match, teams were out practicing getting ready for the tournament. We jumped on a court with Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena to get some touches in before our evening match. They crushed us. I told Stafford as we walked back to the hotel, “I’d feel more confident about tonight’s match if I had sided out a single ball.”

Stafford and I went over Doug’s notes one more time at the hotel before the match. Having that detailed of a scouting report was new to me. It’s great to get information on another team and have a game plan but it can also blind you from what is actually happening in the match. Just because a guy shot back to the line a lot when hitting out of the middle in a match two weeks ago, doesn’t mean he’ll do it again next time. Players can be hot one match and tragic the next. You do have to be open to testing players and adjusting the game plan to what’s actually happening. It was nice to have clear strategy, especially where we were going to serve, but our big focus was still on staying aggressive on our own side. If Trevor started blocking us off the court, we would adjust, but we were going to come out of the gate swinging.

As much as you want to have a routine and treat every match the same, matches will feel different depending on where they are in the tournament. The pressure of playing in a final with a chance to win a tournament is different than the pressure of qualifying to stay alive and have a hotel room for the night instead of being kicked out and homeless on the streets of Russia.

The match started and they went after me right away, serving my way almost every time. We stuck to our game plan and swung hard on nearly every attempt (a big change from Austin). We entered the first timeout down 12-9 then came back to win 21-19. The second was close the whole way again and Stafford got a block or two to put us up at the end. It was 20-17 and we were siding out for the match. They served me and I came in early, got under the ball, and crushed it out wide. We called a timeout. It was 20-18 now. I’d have another chance to side-out for the win. You don’t want to go into this situation with a pre-meditated plan of attack. You should relax and stay behind the ball, making a good choice using your vision and what opening presents itself. Still, in the back of my mind, I just thought hit high and hard and end it here. They served me and did the right play against us—Trevor dove into my angle and Rosie broke for the line shot. I swung high angle and went off the top of Trevor’s hands. We won 21-18 and moved on to the qualifier.

It was an intense side-out battle and I felt more relief than excitement when we won. Later, when Doug did the stats he said we sided out at 85% for the match.

The Tournament

moscow qualifier article

It felt like we’d accomplished something by beating that team but in truth, the tournament hadn’t even started. We shifted focus and carried the same steady but aggressive play over to the single elimination the next day. Our first match was against Turkey. We won a tough one in 3, 21-17, 18-21, 15-13. Then we beat Qatar’s 2nd team 21-15, 23-21. We had a place to stay for the night! We wouldn’t be wandering the streets of Russia.

In the main draw we got handled by Brazil’s Pedro and Guto. Then in the biggest money game of the tourney, we beat Qatar’s 1st team, the Olympians Jefferson and Cherif. 27-25, 21-19 moving on to the playoffs and more importantly earning the USA Volleyball stipend for the tournament. (USAV gives you a travel stipend if you finish at a certain level). It was cold for that match and actually hailed on us at one point.

In playoffs, we lost to Germany’s Bockermann/Fluggen in what was our 6th match of the tournament.

We finished 17th in the Moscow FIVB, which isn’t a great finish and the prize money won’t even replace Stafford’s iPad he left in the plane’s seat-back pocket, but it was still a solid tournament for us. We learned a lot and had the chance to play in multiple high-pressure games, which you just can’t replicate back home. They won’t be making any Disney movies about guys who finished 17th but I’m still glad we went to Moscow and got a little better.


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