By Rick Eymer
The United States men's national volleyball team has a feeling it's in Kansas this weekend and hopes it leads to a yellow brick road.
Stanford grad Kevin Hansen and his Olympic gold medalist teammates are preparing to meet Russia in a showdown for Pool C of the FINA World League.
The Russians come in as the lifeguard of the pool, sporting a 9-1 mark, while the Americans (6-3) hope to wrest control of the pool by sweeping the two matches at the Charles Koch Arena in Wichita. Friday's match begins at 5 p.m. (PT), while Saturday's match gets under way at 4 p.m.
If you can wait, the matches will be shown on a tape-delayed basis on Versus on July 28 at 1 p.m. (PT).
The U.S. is on a three-match winning streak, having just swept host Egypt in Cairo, needing five sets each day.
Finland upset the Russians last weekend, ending their nine-match win streak. That also gave the U.S. the opportunity to gain the top seed of the pool entering the FINA World League Super Final that begins July 21 in Cordoba, Argentina.
The Americans, in a transition stage following its epic struggle in Beijing, have fallen to No. 4 in the world rankings.
The FIVB World League is a men's volleyball competition created in 1990. It consists of 16 teams from around the world competing over the course of seven weeks. The total prize purse for the event is more than $20 million, with the overall winner receiving $1 million for winning the final round.
Elsewhere in Pool C, Finland sits at 3-7, but owns wins over both Russia and the U.S. Egypt is 1-9.
In Pool A, Brazil holds the tiebreaker over Bulgaria, though each has 25 points. Brazil has won nine matches to Bulgaria's eight. The Netherlands (3-7) and Korea (0-10) follow in the standings.
Italy and Serbia are tied entering the final weekend of play, both at 8-2. Serbia has a slight edge in the tie-breaking procedure. France (3-7) and China (1-9) also compete in the pool.
Cuba clinched its spot in the Super Final with a victory over Poland last weekend. The Cubans (9-1) have a three-match edge over Germany, with Poland (5-5) and Argentina (0-10) also in Pool D.
Only the winners of each pool and the host country qualify automatically for the final round. There is also a wild card qualifier selected by the FIVB.
Men's water polo
Stanford grads Peter Varellas, Thomas Hopkins and Tony Azevedo all were named to the USA Senior National Team that will compete at the FINA World League Super Final, which begins next Tuesday in Nis, Serbia.
The USA opens against Spain, and will also meet China and Serbia to close out group play before moving on to crossover matches.
The 16-player group will also compete at the FINA World Cup in Oradea, Romania that runs July 25-31.
The roster was selected after the Americans finished a three-game exhibition series with Montenegro with a 12-11 setback Sunday at the USA Water Polo Training Center in Los Alamitos.
Azevedo scored three times and Varellas added two goals.
Track and field
Stanford grad Erica McLain finished third in the women's triple jump at the Prefontaine Classic over the weekend. The U.S. champion in the event went a season best of 47-1 3/4. Russian Nadezhida Alekhina won the title with a leap of 47-11 3/4 on her first try.
Cardinal grad Russell Brown raced 3:56.92 to finish eighth in the international mile. Ryan Gregson won the race in 3:53.19.
Stanford grad Lauren Fleshman came off her national title the previous week to finish 10th in the women's 5,000 meters with a mark of 15:33.32.
The U.S. women's national team will participate at the 2010 FIVB World Grand Prix Aug. 6-29, and will host two Red vs. Blue exhibition matches on July 17 and 24 in Irvine and San Juan Capistrano.
Women's water polo
The USA meets Russia in the first round of the FINA World Cup scheduled to begin Aug. 17 in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Junior national volleyball
Menlo School senior Allie Frappier, who is headed to Yale in the fall of 2011, was named to the all-tournament team at the recently concluded USAV Junior National Championships in Reno for the 17-year-old Open division.
Frappier helped Vision Gold to a third-place finish at the prestigious event, which features the top 32 teams in the nation in their age group. The Vision Gold 18U team also finished with the bronze medal.
"Allie was the go-to player for the tournament," Vision Gold coach Will Yuen said. "The team could rely on Allie to provide kills and blocks almost upon request."
Palo Alto senior Trina Ohms and Castilleja junior Hannah Boland also were valuable contributors.
"Day one started off a bit shaky, but the girls found their balance and set their course," Yuen said. "Hannah helped get us back on track with timely blocks and kills. Trina provided unsurpassed energy, key aces, and day three kills that proved to be invaluable to the team's tournament success."
Vision Gold setter Hanna Nielson, a senior at Saratoga, was also named to the all-tournament team.
Stanford incoming freshman Rachel Williams helped lead the Vision Gold 18U team to a bronze medal in the 18-under Open Division.
Gunn grad Teresa Skelly started nine of the 10 matches at middle blocker for Vision, while Williams earned a spot on the all-tournament team as an outside hitter.
"Rachel is extremely athletic," Vision Gold coach Jason Mansfield said. "She hits as hard, if not harder, than anyone in the country. She's a great athlete and extremely competitive."
Mansfield will get a chance to work with Williams for at least the next four years in his other job as Cardinal assistant coach to John Dunning.
Laguna Beach's Lydia Vai, also headed to Stanford, helped her team finish fourth in the Open Division. The Wopat twins, Carly and Samantha, played for Santa Barbara. Several others in the Final Four are headed to UCLA, USC, Hawaii and Washington among other schools. Skelly is headed to Harvard to attend school and play volleyball.
"She had her best tournament of the year," Mansfield said of Skelly. "She blocked extremely well. Harvard is getting one heck of a player."
Vision Gold (67-5 on the year) dropped a tough, 25-22, 25-19, decision in the semifinals to eventual champion Sports Shack Asics. Vision Gold finished the year splitting four matches with Shack.
During the semifinal match, Vision Gold was up, 14-10, when setter Rachel Alvey was forced to leave the first set. She later returned for the second set.
"We were on a roll and I liked our chances at the time," Mansfield said. "This was a special group. Nine of the 12 players were with us since the age of 12. We won the silver medal in 2006 and this team is every bit as talented as that one."
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