Column: Women’s Volleyball Olympic Qualification Tournament a smashing success

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Jeff Thomas/Press-Tribune

The Tokyo Women’s Volleyball Qualification Tournament couldn’t have gone much better last weekend at the CenturyLink Center.

The U.S. Women’s National Team went 3-0 in the four-team round-robin event, qualifying for the 2020 Summer Olympics July 24 through Aug. 9 in Tokyo.

More importantly from a local perspective, the event attracted good crowds all three days.

The fans ranged from local families to high school and college volleyball teams from around the region.

Not only did the fans show up, they got into the matches, cheering where appropriate and following the lead of the announcer with chants of “ace” and “monster block.”

It’s not a surprise the tournament was run well by USA Volleyball and the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB), who of course have years of experience conducting these events.

But the leaders of those organizations had be somewhat concerned about how the tournament would go over in a part of the state where girls volleyball at the high school level is just starting to gain popularity.

Turns out there was no need to worry.

“We’re so happy with how the city handled the events and really everyone,” said Team USA middle Tori Dixon. “I know it was a big group effort to get this event in these cities, and I’m really happy how everyone showed out. There was energy. It seemed they really knew volleyball and stuff like that. I think the event was just so well put together. We so fortunate to have something like this on U.S. soil.”

Said Team USA setter Lauren Carlini: “I think it’s great our fans were able to get here and really show out in great numbers. The fact that we had homecourt advantage — we heard them, so pumped for them to see great volleyball. It was awesome.”

Kelly Wells of the Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission said USA Volleyball officials were very happy with the turnout and crowd reactions.
“Great crowd tonight and makes me proud that USA Volleyball was pleased with how our community responded and the team that travels all over the world said our community has been among the best,” Wells wrote in a Facebook post after Team USA’s five-set victory over Bulgaria on Day 2 of the tournament.

That turned out to be the match of the event. Bulgaria, ranked No. 16 in the world, led two sets to one, but the third-ranked U.S. team won the fourth set 25-20 and the tiebreaking fifth 15-10.

The U.S. defeated No. 11 Argentina and No. 23 Kazahkstan in straight sets.
“It’s incredible and to do it in front of the home crowd, it’s just a dream come true for a lot of us,” Carlini said.

“It’s surreal. It’s amazing. I’m excited to be going to Tokyo,” said Team USA middle Haleigh Washington.

The Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission and other organizations who helped bring the event here also have to be excited.

The event definitely raised the profile of women’s volleyball in the area, which can do nothing but help the sport grow locally.

The overall success of the event should also enable the area to attract more quality events like it.

Russell Hedges is Sports Editor of the Bossier Press-Tribune. He may be reached at rhedges@bossierpress.com