Tuesday, 28 March 2023

International Volleyball

American women shine in La Paz Challenge; Caldwell readjusting to beach

Savvy Simo-Toni Rodriguez-La Paz Challenge

There wasn’t a single element of Savvy Simo and Toni Rodriguez’s season-opening tournament, an Elite 16 in Doha in early February, that could be described as normal. They had bought their flights when they weren’t even sure if they were in the event. Rodriguez hadn’t competed since a knee injury ended her season prematurely last May at AVP New Orleans. Their pre-season had only just begun.

And they were supposed to play an Elite 16?

When they finally did board the flight bound for Qatar, they did so slightly unsure. They knew they weren’t fully prepared to compete in an Elite 16, the world’s highest level … but they also knew that no matter what happened, their points, both Olympic and entry, would receive a boost. And so they went, matching up against familiar foes in Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth, Rodriguez’s teammates at LSU, and the very team against whom she ended her 2022 season.

They lost in three, and in 47 minutes — or roughly two percent of their total travel time just to get to Doha in the first place — their tournament was over.

This week looks nothing like that strange time-warp of a tournament a month and a half ago. This week looks like a team who has had a pre-season, one who has ironed out the kinks and winkles accumulated over nearly eight months without competing together. One who looks like they knew that this was a tournament they’d be playing, not a last-second roll of the dice around the world.

In two days at the Volleyball World La Paz Challenge in Mexico, Simo and Rodriguez have won four matches. They’ve toppled Lena Plesiutschnig and Katharina Schutzenhofer, Austria’s top team, as well as Valentina Gottardi and Marta Menegatti, Italy’s No. 1 who finished fifth at last year’s World Championships. They’ve swept Germany’s Karla Borger and Sandra Ittlinger and won their pool, earning a stadium court bout with Mexico’s Abril Flores and Atenas Gutierrez at 1 p.m. Pacific on Saturday for a shot at the quarterfinals.

“We were a little bit nervous and the past couple weeks we’ve been focused on being mindful and not everything is clicking in practice,” Rodriguez said. “To come out here and be so connected and feel so good about what we’re doing — we’re playing really good but we have so much more. We can keep on dialing in what we’re doing. It’s just super exciting.”

Savvy Simo and Toni Rodriguez celebrate a point at the La Paz Challenge/Volleyball World…

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