LINCOLN, Neb. (May 15, 2018) – The U.S. Women’s National Team, on the strength of five players in double-figure scoring, made its 2018 debut Tuesday evening in Lincoln, Nebraska, and walked away with a 28-26, 25-22, 22-25, 25-15 victory over Poland in front of 5,000 fans.
The Americans, ranked second in the world, will meet 12th-ranked Turkey on Wednesday at the Devaney Sports Center on the University of Nebraska campus where three Team USA players gained collegiate notoriety. Jordan Larson (Hooper, Nebraska), Kelsey Robinson (Manhattan Beach, California) and Justine Wong-Orantes (Cypress, California) all starred for the Huskers and made their return to Lincoln.
Michelle Bartsch-Hackley (Champaign, Illinois) scored a match-high 27 points with 25 kills on 53 attacks and two blocks from her outside hitter position. She brought a new element to the court with a focus on adding the back-row attack to the USA weapons.
“We have been working on making sure we have four hitters available a lot,” U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly said. “Everybody is running a route except Justine Wong-Orantes the libero and Carli Lloyd the setter. Bartschy gave us some really nice options there. She had a really nice match offensively and did a lots of things nicely.”
Backing up Bartsch-Hackley offensively was Larson with 20 points via 16 kills on 31 swings, two blocks and two aces on the outside. Opposite Kelly Murphy (Wilmington, Illinois), who missed the 2017 season-ending FIVB World Grand Champions Cup and the 2017-18 pro season to finish her college degree, returned to the court and tallied 13 kills on 30 attacks.
“It was an awesome environment,” Larson said of the hometown crowd where she used to play collegiate volleyball for the University of Nebraska. “Obviously we don’t get to play at home very much. We are thankful for the support that came out. It was awesome.
Middle Rachael Adams (Cincinnati, Ohio) collected 12 points with six kills on 10 attacks, a match-high five blocks and one ace. Middle Foluke Akinradewo (Fort Lauderdale, Florida) added 10 points with eight kills on 16 swings and two blocks. Rounding out the scoring was Robinson, who scored one kill as a sub for Larson late in set one when she went off the court due to injury.
USA held a 69-57 margin in kills and a 12-8 edge in blocks to offset Poland’s 8-4 margin in aces. Kiraly noted that the USA and all the other teams are not as crisp early in the Volleyball Nations League with so many players just returning from their pro seasons.
“It is the same for every team in this tournament,” Kiraly said “We have all had very little time to train. So there a number of plays that that becomes apparent on our side of the net, on Poland’s side of the net, Turkey’s side of the net and Italy’s side of the net. So this poses a new challenge for us, one that we are embracing in terms of figuring things out on the fly. We didn’t know much about (Poland), and they didn’t know much about us as we hadn’t played each in about four and half years. All in all, it was a good effort. It took us a while to get our service pressure going. Our team dialed it up a few notches and made our job a lot easier in that fourth set with a lot better serving. We shouldn’t be getting out-served by many teams. We have a good group of servers and they turned it up.”
Akinradewo felt the flow of the match was a little ragged as she and her teammates had just four training sessions altogether before tonight’s match.
“We haven’t had a lot of time together and it definitely showed tonight,” Akinradewo said. “And that is the beauty of this tournament. We have so many matches to improve on. Each match is kind of like a snapshot of where we are in the process and what we need to work on moving forward. It definitely wasn’t pretty, but I’m glad we got the win.
Poland’s Malwina Smarzek pocketed 23 points with 22 kills on 57 attacks as the young European squad pushed the second-ranked Americans. Natalie Medrzyk added 13 points and Martyna Grajber piled up 12 points.
The U.S. started Larson and Bartsch-Hackley on the outside, Akinradewo and Adams at middle, Murphy at opposite and Lloyd at setter. Wong-Orantes was the libero for the match.
In the opening set, Poland scrapped back from an early deficit earned a set point before the Americans capped the set at 28-26 on its third set point chance. Bartsch-Hackley totaled 10 points in the opening set to offset Poland’s 5-1 ace advantage.
The second set was close and Poland held a lead at 20-19. However, Bartsch-Hackley slammed two kills around a Larson kill to shift the lead in Team USA’s favor at 22-20. Akinradewo followed with a block to prompt Poland to call timeout after four consecutive American points. The Americans finished the set at 25-22 on a Larson kill off the Poland block. Bartsch-Hackley finished the second set with seven points and 17 total points.
Poland started the third set up 3-0, only to have the Americans knot the score at 5-all. The U.S. scored three unanswered points to grab an 8-7 advantage at the first technical timeout. Poland responded with its only 3-0 run to stake a 10-8 advantage. USA regained the lead at 14-13 with three straight points. Poland went into the second timeout leading 16-15. Bartsch-Hackley hammed a back-row attack and Lloyd served an ace to shift the lead back to USA at 17-16. Adams pounded a kill to push the USA back in the lead at 19-18. Poland went in front 22-21 on a USA attack error and earned set points at 24-22. Poland took the third set at 25-22.
The U.S. took a 14-11 lead in the fourth set prompting Poland to call a timeout. The Americans stretched the advantage to 21-13 with six unanswered points including an ace by Larson and Adams scoring a block and kill. The U.S. finished set at 25-15 on consecutive Murphy kills.