Each week, one of our alumni will share a special experience from this summer.
This week, Virginia Pham (’16) shares her experience working as a statistician for USA Volleyball
I had the amazing opportunity this summer to be involved with the USA Volleyball Men’s Junior National Team (MJNT). Earlier this year in February, I received an invitation to be the Men’s Junior National Team Technical Coordinator (aka, statistician, video coordinator). I joined a great staff: the head coach was Jay Hosack, head coach of George Mason men’s volleyball; Jonah Carson, club director for Mountain View Volleyball Club; and Matt McCarthy, associate head coach of Lewis men’s volleyball. Pretty quickly, we held conference calls to discuss which twenty players we would want to invite to the initial training block.
This year started a new round of the “junior team.” Youth and junior teams are a two-year cycle for USA Volleyball and the FIVB (the International Volleyball Federation). This year’s Junior group consisted of boys born in 1997-1998, so the group would be boys who were rising college freshmen and sophomores. The players had all tried out within the USAV High Performance program, which is the pipeline for USA Volleyball.
On June 22, nineteen players and the four staff members reported to the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center. We only had a few days to decide who we would want to keep on the final twelve-man roster. We trained two times a day, and had team meetings and film sessions every day. It was really a neat experience to be living and training at the OTC.
It was a tough decision, but the final twelve we picked consisted of players from Stanford, USC, UCLA, Long Beach State, UC Irvine, Pepperdine, Hawaii, Ohio State, and Princeton. We flew to Gatineau, Quebec on July 3 for the 2016 NORCECA U21 Continental Championship.
There were seven countries at this tournament. We were placed in Pool A with St. Vincent and Barbados. Canada, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, and Guatemala were in Pool B. The North American region, NORCECA, is not known to be as nearly as strong as the European or Asian regions; the main contenders in this would be the USA, Canada, and Cuba. Because there were only seven teams at this tournament, only one team would win an automatic bid to the 2017 FIVB U21 World Championships.
International matches are very different from NCAA matches. There are lots of restrictions in the NCAA as to what you can and cannot do. For example, in the NCAA, you cannot place any staff member behind the end lines of the court, and you cannot use your own video replay systems. For this tournament, we set up walkie-talkies and iPads for the coaches, and I scouted from the end line. I also set up an instant replay camera that synced up to the stats I was taking, so the coaches on the bench could watch video and see stats on the iPads.
After two matches, we won Pool A, defeating both Barbados and St. Vincent. By winning our pool, we got a bye in the quarterfinals, and then played Canada in the semifinals. That was the match the home crowd was waiting for. We ended up winning that match as well, and then faced Cuba in the finals. We knew Cuba would be a tough team to play, since they were probably more powerful than the team we had. We ended up losing just 1 set to them, but we won the match 3-1!
It is a pretty incredible feeling to represent your country and also win a continental championship. I am so thankful to USA Volleyball for allowing me to be a part of this year’s Men’s Junior National Team staff!