USA head coach Karch Kiraly believes the FIVB Volleyball Nations League is the “toughest tournament in volleyball” as he prepares to lead his team into the final round in China this week.
The legendary three-time Olympic champion, who has been in charge of the national squad since 2012, insists the “incredibly challenging” format requires teams to show resilience throughout the five-week preliminary stages.
“I think the VNL is the toughest tournament in volleyball,” the 58-year-old told TeamUSA.org. “The 16 best teams in the world, we play each of them once, three teams in one week for five weeks in five countries.
“It is incredibly challenging for the teams that survived that. The final six obviously showed that they have some resilience and some depth. I think it was a wonderful challenge for all the teams. It is a really gnarly tournament.”
As Tokyo 2020 looms ever closer, Kiraly has named just two players from his Rio 2016 squad for the VNL finals in Jordan Larson and Kelsey Robinson as he looks to provide opportunities to those who show “the most promise”.
“We have some younger people who gave us some special contributions [in the VNL],” Kiraly continued. “We wanted to see who out there, even some with remaining college eligibility, might have the most promise and the most chance to have an impact on the USA future, both for the near term as in this year’s Volleyball Nations League and also in the quite, slightly less near-term looking through the last 13 months of this Olympic cycle, and then of course far beyond 2020.”
USA set for finals week
The Americans registered 12 wins from 15 matches during the round-robin stage with Kiraly naming an altered line-up for every game, which he says provided him “an opportunity to learn” about some younger players in the squad.
“Part of the purpose behind playing so many combinations was that we had an opportunity to learn about some people who had not spent much time, or any time, in a USA Jersey at an FIVB level competition prior to this Volleyball Nations League,” added the USA boss.
“Also, by playing some of those younger players, it gave us an opportunity to rest some people. For example, Karsta Lowe, Michelle Bartsch-Hackley and Lauren Carlini – they didn’t finish their European club seasons until May 18 when they played the Champions League Final.
“They needed some down time and some ramp up time. It all fit together very well. We got to learn a lot about a lot of players. At the same time, we got to rest people more appropriately.”