RIO DE JANEIRO — This past year in Istanbul, U.S. assistant coach Jamie Morrison worked right alongside a man he considers among the best volleyball minds in the business.
That is fired-up, Italian-born Netherlands coach Giovanni Guidetti, who is suddenly making quite a splash in Brazil with group of tenacious Dutch women determined to spoil the fun for the top teams in the tournament and make a special run of their own in Rio. Even if few might have expected them to contend in playing their first Olympics in 20 years.
So, when the top-ranked Americans held on to defeat the Netherlands in a hard-fought, five-set match, Morrison and the rest of the U.S. group were nowhere near surprised by the stellar display of volleyball on the other side.
The U.S. rallied from one set down to win 18-25, 25-18, 21-25, 25-20, 15-8 on a day Dutch captain Maret Balkestein-Grothues had to be helped off midway through the fourth set with a right ankle injury and didn’t return.
You bet the Americans saw this success for the Netherlands coming.
“Volleyball has come enormously far in the Netherlands in the past two years,” Morrison said. “The team is up and coming and the support in their country is as well.”
Morrison was an assistant this past year on Guidetti’s staff guiding club power Vakifbank in Turkey, coaching Lonneke Sloetjes, Anne Buijs and Robin de Kruijf and also U.S. outside hitter Kim Hill, who from through the net saw several familiar faces of her teammates in the pros.
The Dutch have an animated, supportive rooting section backing them.
“We are fighters,” star Celeste Plak said.
The scrappy Netherlands group already took down medal favorite and third-ranked China in five sets — 25-23, 21-25, 18-25, 25-22, 15-13 — in an upset Saturday.
“Maybe people don’t know about it but they are a very a good team with a very good coach,” U.S. coach Karch Kiraly said. “Jamie was his assistant this last year in Turkey on one of the top club teams in the world, VakifBank. So that’s not a surprise to us.”
The first-pumping, hard-clapping Guidetti lost his voice during the opening match. His example of passion, a desire to learn every day to make everyone around him better has been a positive example for the 35-year-old Morrison. He was on the gold-medal winning men’s Olympic staff in 2008.
“His passion is infectious to anyone around him. When you are with him, it is hard to not have a love for the game, love for competing, and want to run through a brick wall for him,” Morrison said of Guidetti.”
When it came to scouting the Netherlands and other pool-play opponents — a six-team group Karch called “truly gnarly” — in the Olympic lead-up back at training headquarters in Orange County, everyone took part. Morrison said it was a collaborative effort involving the athletes that led to lots of insight into how to attack the Dutch.