Karch Kiraly sums it up in two words when asked about the Team USA focus for the NORCECA Women's Continental Championship next week.
The American team, including former Nebraska players Jordan Larson-Burbach and Kayla Banwarth, will work off low sets and a waste-no-time transition game as it hosts eight other nations in the six-day volleyball tournament at the Ralston Arena.
“One of our big focal points for the start of a new four-year Olympic cycle is playing with a lot of speed,” said Kiraly, who took over the U.S. women's national team last fall from Hugh McCutcheon. “We feel like we can play faster and cleaner than just about anybody out there. And when we play with speed, we can create space that can be taken advantage of.
“We really got a nice confirmation during Grand Prix of how effective that offense can be.”
Team USA finished sixth at the recent FIVB World Grand Prix. Since it's standard procedure for some veterans to take time off after an Olympic year, the Americans played that event with a mostly young and inexperienced lineup.
So what did Kiraly find out about some of the youngsters who will stay with Team USA for NORCECA?
“We learned that they can do it at an international level,” he said. “I don't think they knew it about themselves and we didn't know what to expect, either. We had lots of people, probably 11 out of the 16, that had never gotten any significant playing time against quality opponents. So they proved to themselves that they can play with the world's best and challenge at a major tournament.”
Larson-Burbach rejoins the team for the NORCECA Continental Championship after playing on the U.S. team that won a silver medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics. The Americans currently are ranked No. 2 in the world.
Larson-Burbach told The World-Herald this summer that her plan as of now is to stay with Team USA for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“I'm looking at Jordan right now and she is 26,” Kiraly said, “but I think of her as quite young and with lots and lots of volleyball ahead of her, if she so chooses.”
The 6-foot-2 Larson-Burbach, from Hooper, Neb., will play a big part in the Americans playing fast as she attacks from the left side. The hitters will need to have their timing down with setter Alisha Glass.
“What you'll see is when we set it to the sidelines it won't have much height to it,” Kiraly said. “The setter's going to shoot it out there pretty fast. For Jordan and our other hitters, we want to have that ball arrive from setter release to contact in well under one second.”
Kiraly said the object is to put stress on opposing blockers and defenders. Playing fast also is about the transition of going from being blockers to sprinting off the net, keeping an eye on the ball and returning as hitters.
Kiraly, a former UCLA star and three-time Olympic gold medalist, said it's not necessarily a trend at any or all levels.
“Not everybody in volleyball is trying to do it,” he said. “We do see some things happening in the international men's side of the game, where they play with more speed and more out of the back row.”
The top threats for the NORCECA Continental Championship likely will come from No. 8-ranked Dominican Republic and No. 15 Cuba. It starts Monday with pool play (three pools of three) and the champion advances to the FIVB Grand Champions Cup in Japan in November.
“Is it on the same level as qualifying for Rio? Probably not,” Kiraly said. “But we played Brazil a couple weeks ago and we'd love to have another shot at them (in Japan), and the only way to do that is by winning NORCECA”