COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Dec. 9, 2019) – Annie Drews (Elkhart, Indiana) sparked the U.S. Women’s National Team to three tournament podium finishes (one gold, two silvers) in events she competed during 2019, all while being selected to two FIVB tournament dream teams.
For her efforts, Drews has been selected as the 2019 USA Volleyball Female Indoor Player of the Year. Setters Jordyn Poulter (Aurora, Colorado) and Lauren Carlini (Aurora, Illinois) were selected as 2019 USA Volleyball Female Indoor Co-Most Improved Players of the Year.
The U.S., ranked second in the world by the FIVB, finished 2019 with a 44-7 record in tournament play with five podium finishes. Team USA captured gold at the 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League, Pan American Cup and NORCECA Champions Cup, while claiming silver at the FIVB World Cup and the NORCECA Continental Championship. The U.S. also qualified for the 2020 Olympic Games by winning its Tokyo Qualification Tournament pool on home soil.
Carlini and Poulter share more than one thing in common in receiving the Co-Most Improved Player of the Year honors. Both share the honor while competing against one another in the same position while also supporting the other in their own successes. And ironically, both hail from towns named Aurora – Poulter from Aurora, Colorado, and Carlini from Aurora, Illinois.
Drews scored a Team USA-high 388 points in 2019 with a 4.56 scoring average per set, second most among players with at least one start. For the season, Drews started 23 matches and played in 85 sets compiling 3.94 kills, 0.35 blocks and 0.27 aces per set. She converted 46.3 percent of her attacks into points with a .317 hitting efficiency. Her defense improved throughout 2019 with 107 digs for a 1.26 dig average.
“I am beyond grateful to represent USA Volleyball and for all of the opportunities I got to experience in 2019 with our team,” Drews said. “We have so many talented players and impactful women in our program and I’m just honored to continue to learn and grow alongside some of the best. Thank you to our team and staff for all of the work put in to make 2019 a successful year for USA Volleyball.”
Drews claimed the most valuable player honor at the 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League and was selected as Best Opposite on the 2019 FIVB World Cup Dream Team. She averaged 4.70 points per set during the VNL, starting 12 of the 19 matches. She held a .315 hitting efficiency while converting 47.6 percent of her attacks into points. She averaged 4.08 kills, 0.34 blocks and 0.28 aces per set during the VNL. Drews started nine of the 11 World Cup matches and converted 45.3 percent of her attacks into points with a .324 hitting efficiency. She averaged 3.92 kills, 0.38 blocks and 0.31 aces per set for a 4.62 scoring average.
U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly said Drews stepped up her game and became a force on offense for Team USA.
“We laid out challenges at the opposite position this season, and Annie answered them all, with the new attitude and new presence she brought for 2019,” Kiraly said. “As a result, she helped lead us to a FIVB Volleyball Nations League gold medal with her MVP performance, and to one of USA’s best-ever offensive performances during a silver-medal finish at the FIVB World Cup. Her hunger to improve and her termination factor added new dimensions to our offense, and that elevated the play of everyone around her.”
While Drews has appreciated the postseason honor, she has quickly turned her attention to wanting more and to improve upon 2019.
“When I found out I would be the USA Volleyball Female Indoor Player of the Year, I celebrated for about 10 minutes before I started thinking about the Olympics and the ways that I, and we, will need to fight to improve to make 2020 our best year yet,” Drews said. “While the memories and accolades of 2019 will be special memories in my career, I’m far from satisfied and am excited to see how I can improve and help USA Volleyball improve on our Tokyo 2020 journey. The work continues!”
Poulter played 56 sets in 2019 with 13 starts. She averaged 11.80 assists per set in running the offense. Individually, she averaged 0.75 points per set with 10 kills (0.18 per set), 16 blocks (0.29 per set) and 16 aces (0.29 per set). Additionally, she averaged 2.48 digs per set for fourth highest on the team.
“I’m so grateful for the opportunities I was given this summer in the USA gym that allowed me to improve as a player, teammate and person,” Poulter said. “Being surrounded by the strong, talented women we have in our gym pushes you to be better and want to be better for those around you. I’m honored to have had the privilege to improve in an environment that promotes learning and growth daily.”
Poulter shined during the 2019 FIVB World Cup in helping the Americans to the silver medal. In starting seven of the 11 matches, Poulter set her teammates to a 37 percent kill efficiency with her on the court.
“Our biggest job with USA is to learn and improve – every play, every day,” Kiraly said. “One of the biggest components of that learning process is building our ability to be ‘comfortable being uncomfortable,’ working at the edge of our competence. While Jordyn leaned into that process last year, she immersed herself in it this season, and the results of her work are readily apparent, leading our offense to a strong silver-medal finish at the World Cup in only her second year with the program.”
Poulter, who finished her second season with the U.S. Women’s National Team and just her first full year with the program, felt more comfortable running the offense in 2019 after working with U.S. Women’s National Team Assistant Coach Erin Virtue.
“Aside from the experience gained this past summer, I think I reached a place where I was comfortable running our speed and tempo while putting hitters in good situations to be successful,” Poulter said. “In order to do that, we setters worked with Erin to tweak some individual technicalities, which for me was going to get the ball high and finishing my hands high to the target.”
Carlini started 18 matches with 63 total sets played in 2019. She averaged 11.40 assists per sets in sharing much of the setting duties with Poulter. She averaged 0.89 points per set with 20 kills (0.32 per set), 25 blocks (0.40 per set) and 11 aces (0.17 per set). Defensively, she ranked second on the team in dig average with 2.87 despite being the setter.
“I am so honored to have been chosen as co-Most Improved Player of the Year alongside Jordyn Poulter,” Carlini said. “It was a fantastic summer for Team USA and I could not have made the strides I did without the help of the coaching staff and my teammates. It’s an incredible environment that we get to be in everyday; competing with each other yet wanting the absolute best for your teammates at the same time and pushing each other every day to be the best we can possibly be.”
Kiraly said Carlini has shown resiliency and the results have shown brightly in her third campaign with Team USA.
“Lauren had a tough start with USA, two very challenging seasons in 2017 and ’18, rarely earning roster spots,” Kiraly said. “That kind of start would have deflated many, but Lauren was undeterred. In her third campaign this year, she broke through. Her ability to trust and stay on course with her learning process allowed her to lead our offense to a Volleyball Nations League gold medal and a berth for the Tokyo Olympics. Lauren’s perseverance has not only made her significantly better, it’s made USA better too.”
Carlini started eight of the final nine 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League matches when she rejoined the team in week four resulting in the U.S. claiming its second straight VNL title. Carlini was 8-0 in the VNL as the starting setter, including two wins over top-ranked China and a five-set win over Brazil in the title match.
“I’m honored to be in this gym and receiving this honor because I truly believe, as a whole, our program has improved tremendously over the past year,” Carlini said. “It truly makes a world of difference when you know that the people around you have your back no matter what and everyone is in the fight together. I’m so grateful to be a part of Team USA and competing with and for these women. I’m going to continue improving for this group of girls and this program because we have bigger goals to achieve looking forward to 2020.”
Carlini said her success in 2019 came from gaining confidence in her own abilities heading into the season.
“I think the changes I made really started with my club team in Italy (2018-19 season with Igor Gorgonzola Novara),” Carlini said. “(Scandicci Head Coach) Massimo Barbolini is an incredible coach and he really gave me a lot of freedom to run Novara’s offense. He created a competitive and open learning environment in practices, and I think that’s where my strides began. Gaining confidence as the pro season went on made a complete difference once I stepped in the USA gym in May 2019. After that, it really just was about stepping up in the big moments and taking the reins when my number was called. Being ready for the big moments and having the confidence in myself and my training made the biggest difference this summer. I couldn’t have had the summer that I did without the help and confidence from the coaching staff and my teammates.”