Team USA had a very clear chance at a gold medal at this year’s WCH, which would be its first gold at the tournament since a very distant 1986 title run. The team had three perfect rounds, steamrolling through its opponents in undefeated fashion. However, when it mattered most, the team ran into the Polish team in the semis. Although not in anyone’s title favorites list at the start of the competition, the Polish decided to play its best volleyball against Team USA, eliminating it from the competition in a tightly contested 3-2 war. Needless to say, the loss was a traumatic event for the players and coaching staff:
“I will remember more our defeat with Poland in the semi-final than winning the bronze medal. Participating in a bronze medal match is really a difficult and emotional matter. After meeting with the Poles, which ended at midnight, I only fell asleep about four in the morning. It’s crazy. I am proud of my team, that it went out and fought. It really was not easy.” – Coach John Speraw
“We are glad that we finally got bronze. Returning to the hotel after the defeat in the semi-final with Poland was not the most pleasant thing, we could not sleep for a long time.” – Team USA’s Taylor Sander
Speraw and his players raise an important criticism of the FIVB’s organization of the tournament. Making players contest for the Bronze medal after having their dreams shattered less than 24 hours before is just hurtful. Although it makes sense financially to have an extra game with top teams going at each other, from a humane point it doesn’t, since the institution is clear forcing the players to do something they don’t wish to do. An alternative would be to award the bronze medal to the losing team that had the best semifinal performance in sets won.