Lausanne, Switzerland, October 22, 2014 – Former USA libero Stacy Sykora was on hand for the FIVB at the 2014 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships providing expert insight and analysis. The Olympic silver medallist and two-time World Grand Prix winner gives her thoughts on the tournament as a whole, including USA’s historic first title.
"Firstly, in a tournament like this, when two teams compete it is not always the stronger team or the team with the best player that wins. It is the best “team”, the best 12 people that come to play that day against that team. For example, USA got beaten badly by Italy and everyone thought that it would be Italy going to the finals with Brazil. What I like in volleyball is that Monday to Friday’s game results mean nothing when it comes to Saturday’s game mentality. America came back from a loss against Italy and played perfect volleyball against Brazil to win. I think it was a great show of heart and dedication and illustrated their will to win, together as a team, proving that the past is the past. That was huge for me.
"USA kept getting better throughout the final week but I guarantee every one of those teams will be better this time next year because of the experience.
"It was good to see a lot of players get their chance on the court. The US had a lot of older players who were carrying injuries so they had to rotate a lot. China lost their middle blocker Yunli Xu to injury. She is a great player but they had an 18-year old, Xinyue Yuan, who came in and she played awesome. Yunli Xu I hope recovers soon. I am happy that Xinyue Yuan got amazing experience at a World Championships to help her grow as a young player.
"The Dominican Republic surprised everyone except me. When I saw them play the first game their growth from 0-100 was incredible. They are so athletic and will be a team to watch out for in the future.
"I think Italy is still very strong but they haven’t found their starting six yet. They’ve got 12 great players but because of that, they don’t have their starting line-up set yet. This is every coaches’ dream. They are the deepest team with the most experience and they will surprise a lot of people.
"Brazil will probably have the most to learn from the experience. They learn from everything. They will scout players from USA, Italy and China to find out why they lost and – more importantly – why the other teams won. They will grow and only get better. Losing the World Championships will hurt them but it’s like putting fuel on a fire, it will only drive them more.
"They are two time Olympic champions and you can’t ever look past that. They will only get to better. They are a team that will pick it up from here.
"It was a team effort from USA, Brazil and Italy throughout the tournament. They don’t have one player that is phenomenal, just a very good team setup. Kim Hill got the MVP award. Did she deserve the award? Yes, absolutely. But the USA team is a strong team. That is why the team with multiple strong athletes are the strongest. I know this is obvious but beating a team is harder than stopping one individual but I think everyone on the team helped her get that award and they were just as good as her. She was great in that last game.
"It’s the same for Italy. You won’t have the same player making 30 points a game and even the bench players are making their contributions to the team.
"However, some teams did rely on one key player. China, for example, were led by Ting Zhu who is a phenomenal player. Beth De La Cruz is a player like Zhu who is really the centre of that Dominican Republic team. Azerbaijan’s Polina Rahimova is another player who was central to her teams attack. She was the leading scorer up until the finals and when I watched them play they set her every single ball.
"As a former libero it was interesting to see who performed the best in that position. For me, Brenda Castillo from the Dominican Republic is hands down the best libero in the world. Monica de Gennaro from Italy and Camila Brait from Brazil are also up there, of course, she finished as the best libero in the tournament. Kayla Banwarth is a good libero for USA and her passing is amazing. Obviously defence and passing are important aspects of a libero. I think the most important, actually the most crucial aspect, is that they are great teammates who will sacrifice themselves for the team. With or without the ball.
"It’s funny because my last tournament with USA was the World Championships in 2010 so my heart goes out to the tournament. When I got the opportunity to go and work with the FIVB and had the chance to go to Italy it was a blessing.
"I played in Italy for eight seasons so Italy is home to me. The volleyball atmosphere couldn’t be topped. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a gym like that, it was amazing in the finals, especially when Italy played. I would get chills. Even when the Italians were down 10-5, when they would get that sixth point the crowd would go bonkers, almost like they had won the World Championship.
"It just goes to show that volleyball is still growing. It was an amazing trip for me and I got to be there when USA won. When they were victors I got to be on the court with that team. More than half of that team were my team mates so I always want the best for them. I was there, I was cheering and I felt as if I had just won the World Championships myself. Once a USA Volleyball member always a USA Volleyball member. I feel as though no matter what age, culture, lifestyle or gender you are, if you dedicate and commit to something, it will be a part of your life forever. All past athletes, who have been on a team, committed themselves to this team, will always have a part, even if it is minute, to the success of that team. I gave my heart and soul to USA Volleyball and will always do that. When they win, I win.”
Stacy Sykora first played for the US national team in 1999 and since then has gone on to become one of the most recognisable faces in international women's volleyball. She has played at three Olympic Games where she finished fourth (2000), fifth (2004) and second (2008) and won a FIVB World Championship silver medal in 2002. She missed out on the London Olympics after suffering a near-fatal bus accident while playing for a Brazilian club in 2011. On July 31, 2013 Stacy officially announced her retirement from international volleyball. She now faces a new challenge in her career as coach with the USA Volleyball High Performance Program.