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Wednesday, 10 August 2016

#BetweenTheRings: Women's Indoor Volleyball Preview
Host Brazil brings the heat to the indoor court


The women's indoor volleyball competition in Rio is going to be spicy...quite spicy!  With 8 of the top 10 nations in the world qualifying, the race for the podium is going to heat up quickly.  Now of course we cannot talk about volleyball and women without right away thinking about home nation Brazil.  The Brazilians will enter the tournament as huge favourites to not only hit their way onto the podium but bump, set and spike their way to the top with a gold medal.  But with competing powerhouse nations USA, China, Russia, Japan and Serbia also here, it won't be easy.  Plus there may just be one or two dark horse teams (Hint: #TeamOranje) who could smash their way to a surprise medal run.

The quick #RioRewind on the women's indoor volleyball history at the Olympiad:

  • Women's indoor volleyball has been contested at the Olympics since 1964.  Similar to the men, this will be the 14th year of women's indoor volleyball being part of the Olympiad.
  • Since the inception of the Olympic sport, only 5 nations have found the top of the podium: Brazil, China, Cuba, Japan and the Soviet Union.  In Rio, Brazil, China and Japan will continue to lay claim to being the dominant women's volleyball nation.
  • Brazil will attempt the #3peat at home in 2016.  The gold medal #3peat has been accomplished once before with Cuba claiming the top of the podium in 1992, 1996 and 2000.
  • The USA, long considered a power house nation in the sport, has failed to win an Olympic gold medal.  In 10 previous appearances, their best result has been silver (2012, 2008, 1984).
  • Quick guess which nation has the most women's volleyball Olympic appearances.  Brazil?  USA?  Cuba?  Nope....Japan!  2016 will be Japan's 12th Olympiad.  Japan only missed the 1980 and 2000 Summer Olympics and they have made the podium in 6 of their previous 11 appearances.  South Korea and USA will be making their 11th appearance and Brazil will be making their 10th in Rio.
  • Ok, Soviet Union/Russia would be the leading nation with combined appearances...you are right.  Combined they would have 12 appearances with Rio being #13.  But the Soviet Union was not just Russia so technically this doesn't count!
  • Who is making their Olympic debut?  Well, unlike many other sports, women's indoor volleyball will welcome 3 new nations to the Olympic participation family.  Argentina, Cameroon and Puerto Rico will make their debut on the indoor hard courts.  Crazy to think Argentina and Puerto Rico have never qualified before given the strong history of the sport in both countries and their continuous strong results in the World Grand Prix.

History says Brazil, China and Japan should be considered the podium favourites with USA and Russia right behind.  It is safe to say history will be made in Rio though.  Will Brazil complete the #3peat?  Will USA finally land on the top of the podium?  Can China regain their form and status as the volleyball dominant nation they once were?  Will Japan replicate their bronze medal (or better) performance from London and find the podium for an amazing 7 times in 12 appearances (58% success rate)?  And what about a dark horse nation?  Somebody has to step up and surprise the favourites right?

Let's go the preview and medal predictions to see if we can answer these questions:

Pool A

Brazil (3) - The host nation and two-time defending gold medal winners will be strong favourites to nab the #3peat in Rio.  Brazil is on a roll entering the Olympics.  They recently won their 11th overall World Grand Prix title, beating rival USA in the final. Don't let the #3 world ranking fool you, this team is the #1 team in the world right now!  They have been provided the much easier pool to compete in and should only see a slight challenge from Russia in pool play.

Russia (4) - With Brazil, USA and China dominating the podium conversation, many people have overlooked Russia and just how strong this team is.  After back-to-back silver medal performances at the 2000 and 2004 Summer Olympics, Russia has suffered back-to-back QF losses in 2008 and 2012.  They will be looking to find their way back to the podium.  Russia had a strong World Grand Prix season, making the SF round before suffering a loss to USA.  They did finish 4th overall after being upset in the 3rd place match to upstart Netherlands.  The pool draw sets up nicely for them to easily advance and be favoured to compete for a medal.  Russia qualified for Rio via the European automatic qualifier, beating Netherlands in the final.

Japan (5) - Japan made a surprise podium finish in London, claiming the bronze medal.  The all-time Olympic appearance leaders will want to try to replicate the outstanding games from four years ago.  But they may have a tough time in making it happen.  Japan finished a disappointing 8th at the World Grand Prix with a 3-6 overall record.  Qualifying out of the pool should not be a problem for this team, advancing past the QF though, given the tough competition awaiting them from Pool B might be too much to ask this time around.  Japan qualified by finishing as the top Asian team in the Asian/Last-Chance qualifier tournament in May.

South Korea (9) - Speaking on surprising finishes from London, South Korea may be an even bigger shock than Japan.  The South Koreans ended up making the SF (beating Brazil in the group stage by the way) by beating Italy in the QF.  They lost to USA in the SF and lost the bronze to their Asian rivals from Japan.  South Korea will be in tough to match their magical London run though here in Rio.  Brazil and Russia are probably too strong for them in pool play; however, winnable games vs. newcomers Argentina and Cameroon are very possible meaning a QF spot could happen.  South Korea did not qualify to compete in the World Grand Prix and qualified for Rio as the final qualifier from the last-chance event.

Argentina (12) - Welcome to Rio Argentina.  You get to make your Summer Olympic debut close to home, meaning they should have some strong fan support in the stands.  However, you also make your Olympic debut in your rival nation, Brazil, which means you will also face a lot of hostility from the Brazilian fans.  Argentina qualified for their first Olympics via the South American qualifier, besting Peru and Columbia as the main challengers.  Argentina had a disappointing World Grand Prix result this season, finishing 17th with a 2-4 record in Group 2.  They will need to step up their game in a major way to compete with their Pool A counterparts.  A QF berth is not out of the question but, unlike a few teams above them, it is not a guarantee either.

Cameroon (21) - The African qualification spot belongs to the Lionesses of Cameroon.  Cameroon actually finished 3rd at the African Volleyball Championship and 2nd at the All-Africa Games, both competed in 2015.  Both times they suffered losses to rival Kenya.  However, at the African qualifier, Egypt upset Kenya in the SF.  Cameroon took full advantage besting Egypt in 5 sets to qualify for their first Olympic Games.  Cameroon did not qualify for the World Grand Prix and will be in tough to win a set in Rio, let alone a match.

#TwineTime Projected Standings:  1. Brazil  2. Russia  3. Japan  4. South Korea  5. Argentina  6. Cameroon

Pool B

USA (1) - The pressure is on the US women in Rio.  After back-to-back Olympic final losses to rival Brazil, the national program and volleyball fans in America are demanding a better result this time around.  The Americans also suffered the runner-up finish to Brazil in the 2016 World Grand Prix final.  What better piece of revenge for the last few years of disappointing end results than to beat Brazil for gold on their home court?  The USA qualified by winning the North American qualifier tournament, beating Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Canada.

China (2) - What happened to China?  Remember when they were the most feared women's volleyball nation in the world?  That fear amongst their competition is no longer there.  The domination no longer exists.  Yes, China is the #2 ranked team in the world right now but I think Brazil and Russia would debate that ranking.  China did qualify for the World Grand Prix Championship finals by ended up with a disappointing 5th place finish.  Couple that result with the disappointing QF loss in London four years ago and China is VERY anxious to rediscover the domination and winning ways of the past.  China earned their spot in Rio by winning the 2015 World Cup in Japan, finishing with a 10-1 record.  If they can find that intensity again here, a medal is a strong possibility.

Serbia (6) - Speaking of the 2015 World Cup, who earned the 2nd automatic qualifier?  USA? Nope!  Russia?  Nope!  Home nation Japan?  Nope.  Yes...it's Serbia!  Serbia will be making their 3rd straight Olympic appearance after previously competing as a part of Yugoslavia.  After a strong 5th place finish in 2008 in their debut, four years ago they took a major step back finishing tied for 11th in London.  Serbia also had a disappointing World Grand Prix, finishing with a 5-4 record and just missing qualification for the championship final.  They have competed with the main competition they will face off against in Rio and have had strong winning results in the past.  They know they belong here and know they can make a podium push.  

Italy (8) - The #8 ranked Italians will be making their 5th straight Olympic appearance.  They have reached the QF round each of the past 3 Olympics...and each time lost in the QF to finish in a tie for 5th place overall.  The Italians also had a disappointing World Grand Prix season, finishing 4-5 and missing the championship final.  They qualified for Rio via the last-chance qualifier tournament in Japan.  The team seems to be able to easily qualify for the QF but they need to find a way to get the monkey off their back and reach the medal round.

Netherlands (14) - Here they are...the #TwineTime dark horse pick to make a #PodiumPush in Rio.  #TeamOranje has been on a roll recently so don't let that #14 ranking fool you.  The Netherlands lost the European qualifier final to Russia but did beat fellow pool participant Italy in the SF.  They headed to Japan and finished 2nd in the last-chance qualifier tournament to earn their spot in Rio, finishing with a 5-2 record.  The success continued during the World Grand Prix event.  The Dutch surprised their competition in Group 1, finishing with a 5-4 record and qualifying for the Championship Round.  Once there, they continued to surprise once again beating China in the pool stage.  They lost the SF to Brazil but rebounded to beat Russia and claim bronze.  Netherlands will be making only their 3rd ever Olympics appearance, last competing in 1996 (5th place finish).  Don't be surprised to see this team replicate or even beat that result in Rio.

Puerto Rico (16) - It still seems shocking to see Puerto Rico competing in their inaugural Olympic tournament.  To qualify for Rio, PR won the last-chance group two tournament, beating Columbia, Kenya and Algeria.  At the 2016 World Grand Prix, Puerto Rico found great success topping Group 2 with a 6-0 record before losing to rival Dominican Republic in the SF.  They would rebound and beat Bulgaria for 3rd place.  PR could take a few sets off their higher ranking competition but to collect enough wins and qualify for the QF could be a bit too much to ask in their debut performance.

#TwineTime Projected Standings:  1. USA  2. Netherlands  3. China  4. Italy  5. Serbia  6. Puerto Rico

Knockout Stage  (Note: 2nd and 3rd place finishers in Pool A and Pool B are placed in a drawing of lots for the knockout stage.  For this prediction, I will go with the default 2A-3B and 3A-2B format)

Quarterfinals

Brazil over Italy
Netherlands over Japan
Russia over China
USA over South Korea

Semifinals

Brazil over Netherlands
USA over Russia

Bronze Medal

Netherlands over Russia

Gold Medal

Brazil over USA

#TwineTime Medal Picks

Gold - Brazil
Silver - USA
Bronze - Netherlands

Stay up to date on all the #BetweenTheRings #Rio2016 Previews below:

Welcome to Rio 2016
Women's Football Preview
Men's Football Preview
Tennis Preview
Rugby Sevens Preview
Men's Basketball Preview
Men's Indoor Volleyball Preview
Women's Basketball Preview
Beach Volleyball Preview

Also, don't forget to have YOUR voice heard on what sport(s) you are most excited about watching during the XXXI Olympiad by voting on the #TwineTime homepage.