Pula, Croatia – Outblocking Northumbria 11-4, the U.S. Collegiate National Team-Europe completed pool play in the European Global Challenge with 25-18, 22-25, 26-24 match against the English team Thursday morning. The U.S. finished pool play with a 10-5 set record and will advance to the semifinals this evening to play Northumbria again.
“Fatigue is starting to set in and this is a long trip,” head coach Dani Busboom Kelly said, “but that’s why these players came here – to learn how to play overseas and to learn how to grind through a long trip maybe when you’re uncomfortable. They did a great job of battling through that match and ending on a real strong note.”
After the CNT easily won the first set, Northumbria challenged in the second set, taking an early 7-2 lead. The U.S. battled back to tie the set at 9-9, and neither team led by more than two points after that. The English team broke a 22-22 tie with two kills and a block to win the set.
The U.S. trailed for much of the third set, including at 19-22 before two team blocks keyed a 3-0 run to knot the score at 22. Stanford’s Audriana Fitzmorris keyed a late run for the CNT by putting away two kills, including the set winner.
Fitzmorris notched a team-high eight kills while Washington State’s Taylor Mims added seven kills. Fitzmorris also scored on three service aces, all coming consecutively in the third set.
Colorado State’s Kirstie Hillyer led the U.S. with three block points while Kentucky’s Leah Edmond and Wisconsin’s Danielle Hart both added two blocks.
“They played more of an American style of volleyball, stuff we’re used to,” Hillyer said. “Going into it, we didn’t really know what to expect, but once we were in the match it was easier to line up on them, easier to get into a rhythm so I think that definitely helped.”
The semifinal pitting the two teams again today is a best-of-five match, and life on the Global Challenge website. The Croatian U23 Select Team faces off against the Mountain West Conference All-Star team in the other semifinal. The winners will advance to Friday’s final at 1 p.m. ET while the losers will play in the third-place match at 8 a.m. ET.
“We get to play the same team at 6 p.m. in the semifinals, and that’s good because they challenged us so we’ll see if we can make adjustments,” Busboom Kelly said.
Hillyer added, “Overall, I think we need to improve our defense, making sure those blocks are closed, making sure that we get into our positions to make digs. Just be scrappy and be ready to play.”
Set 1 – Trailing 8-10, Team USA got kills from Mims and Edmonds to tie the score at 10. The U.S. fell behind 10-12 before a 5-0 run gave the CNT at 15-12 lead. The U.S. never trailed the rest of the set though Northumbria held off two set points.
Set 2 – Falling behind 2-7, a 7-2 run by the CNT tied the score at 9-9. Service aces by Hillyer and Mims keyed the run. The set was tied nine more times before Northumbria scored three straight – two kills and a block – to win the set.
Set 3 – The final stanza featured 10 ties, including at 22-22 when two blocks gave the U.S. some needed momentum. Northumbria served for set point at 24-23 before a kill from Fitzmorris tied the score again. A Northumbria hitting error and another Fitzmorris kill put the match away.
The U.S. started Iowa State’s Jessica Schaben and Edmond at outside hitter, Hart and Utah’s Berkeley Oblad at middle blocker, Mims at opposite, Colorado State’s Katie Oleksak at setter and Alexis Dirige (Washington State) at libero.