RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (Aug. 6, 2016) – The world’s top-ranked U.S. Olympic Women’s Volleyball Team opened its 2016 Olympic Games with a 25-17, 25-22, 25-17 victory over NORCECA rival Puerto Rico on Saturday evening at Maracanazinho Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. However, the victory did not come without a challenge in all three sets.
The Americans, in the six-team Pool B, will next face No. 11 Netherlands on Monday at 2 p.m. ET. Earlier today Netherlands upset third-ranked China in five sets.
Team USA used 41 points from players competing in their first Olympic Games match as opposite Kelly Murphy (Wilmington, Illinois) and outside hitter Kim Hill (Portland, Oregon) each scored 14 points in the victory. Murphy scored 13 kills on 19 errorless attacks for a 68.4 hitting efficiency to go with a block for the Americans, while Hill added 12 kills on 20 swings, one block and one ace.
The U.S. broke a 14-all tie in the opening set with an 8-1 scoring run en route to a 25-17 victory. Murphy scored six points in the sets to pace the Americans. Team USA trailed 19-17 in the second set but caught fire late to win 25-22, scoring eight of the final 13 points. The Americans broke free from a 13-all tie in the third set with a 6-1 scoring spurt to grab a 19-14 advantage and never let the Puerto Ricans back in the match with a 25-17 victory.
“In general I think we are always using matches to learn,” U.S. Olympic Women’s Team captain Christa Dietzen said. “I think each match we are working to improve, and I think we did that tonight. Now we are preparing for Netherlands.”
The Americans also had their Olympic veterans step up as well. Outside hitter Jordan Larson (Hooper, Nebraska) tallied 11 points with eight kills and three blocks. Middle Foluke Akinradewo (Plantation, Florida) added nine kills and a block for 10 points. Middle Rachael Adams (Cincinnati, Ohio), playing in her first Olympics tallied six kills and two blocks for eight points. Karsta Lowe (Rancho Santa Fe, California) tacked on two kills as the opposite in the double sub in the second two sets.
“First I want to congratulate Puerto Rico on representing our zone so well and qualifying for the Olympics,” U.S. Olympic Women’s Volleyball Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly said. “We are always proud when as many teams from NORCECA represent us at the Olympics. They are going to do a great job throughout. We are very familiar with each other because we are from the same zone. We played against each other last January in one of the Olympic qualifying tournaments. I expect them to get better as the tournament goes on, and I expect us to get better also.
The U.S. convert 55.6 percent of its attacks into points with a .467 hitting efficiency (50-8-90) as setter Alisha Glass (Leland, Michigan) contributed 36 running sets on 61 errorless set attempts. Carli Lloyd (Bonsall, California), playing in her first Olympics and came off the bench as the double-sub setter in the final two sets, added five running sets on 10 chances.
Libero Kayla Banwarth (Dubuque, Iowa) provided 12 excellent receptions on 22 attempts and Larson added four excellent receptions on 12 chances and a team-high three digs.
“We are approaching this as any other tournament,” Kiraly said. “We are excited to start into the rhythm of this tournament now – play, day off, look to get better. We certainly have some things that we can improve and we will have this play, this on-off for almost the next 10 days. This is a nice opportunity to get into the real rhythm of the competition.”
The U.S. held a 10-4 advantage in blocks to offset Puerto Rico’s slim 4-2 edge in aces. The Americans held a commanding 50-31 kill advantage as the Team USA defense limited Puerto Rico to a 29.8 kill percent and .115 hitting efficiency.
Puerto Rico is competing in its first Olympic Games for women’s indoor volleyball, but this was Team USA’s 40th meeting with them since 1983 and holding a 37-3 record.
After its Aug. 10 match with Netherlands, Team USA continues Pool B with Serbia on Aug. 10 and Italy on Aug. 12 all at 2 p.m. ET. The Americans conclude the group phase on Aug. 14 against No. 3 China at 4:05 p.m. ET.
Team USA has never won Olympic gold in women’s indoor volleyball despite being on the cusp on several occasions. The U.S. finished with the silver in each of the last two Olympics in 2008 and 2012, falling to Brazil both times in the gold-medal match. The Americans also earned silver at the 1984 Olympic Games, followed by bronze in 1992. In fact, Team USA has garnered only one gold medal in any of the three major volleyball tournaments (Olympics, FIVB World Championship and FIVB World Cup), and that was only two years ago when the Americans broke through and earned the 2014 FIVB World Championship title in Italy.
The U.S. scored three unanswered points with kills from Hill and Murphy followed by a Glass block to push the Americans in front 4-2 in the first set. Adams put up a block and Larson slammed a kill to lift the U.S. to an 8-4 advantage. Adams and Murphy slammed back-to-back kills to prompt Puerto Rico to call timeout down 11-6. Puerto Rico came out of the timeout with consecutive points to close the gap to 11-8.
Puerto Rico’s Stephanie Enright served back-to-back aces to slice her team’s deficit to 12-11, then Karina Ocasio put up a block to level the score at 13-all. Akinradewo and Murphy scored back-to-back kills to put the Americans up by two at 16-14. Larson and Murphy pounded kills leading into Puerto Rico’s second timeout down 18-15. Out of the timeout, Murphy connected for another kill and Puerto Rico hit long to extend the American lead to 20-15. Glass served an ace and Adams put up a block for a fourth and fifth straight point giving the U.S. a 22-15 lead. Team USA finished the set at 25-17 with an Adams kill.
Hill scored consecutive kills to put the Americans up 4-2 early in the second set. The U.S. lead reached three points after a Larson kill at 8-5, but Puerto Rico answered with back-to-back points to come within one at 8-7. Larson connected for a kill after a Puerto Rico error to go back up by three at 10-7. However, Enright served an ace after a kill to close the gap back to one at 10-9. Puerto Rico squared the set at 11-all on an American attack error. Puerto Rico took the lead at 13-12 on an Enright kill from the backrow. Puerto Rico gained a two-point cushion at 16-14 on a Lynda Morales ace. Team USA knotted the score with a Larson kill and Adams block at 17-all, but Puerto Rico answered with back-to-back points to go up 19-17. Hill tied the score at 19-all with a kill, then she pounded a kill off the net that landed on the Puerto Rico side to switch the advantage to the Americans at 20-19. Team USA went up 23-21 on a Puerto Rico error after a Hill kill. Akinradewo gave USA set points at 24-22 with a block. Larson ended the set with a kill at 25-22.
Akinradewo downed consecutive kills to put the Americans in front 4-2 early in the third set. Glass lifted the U.S. to a 6-3 advantage with a block after a Larson kill. Puerto Rico battled back to within one at 7-6. Team USA rebuilt a three-point cushion at 11-8 on kills from Akinradewo and Hill. However, Puerto Rico answered with three straight points to square the set at 11-all. Hill served an ace after a Puerto Rico service ace to lift the Americans up 13-11. Again, Puerto Rico answered with two straight points to knot the score at 13-all. Larson responded with a kill, Puerto Rico hit wide and Lowe downed an overpass to shift the USA up 16-13. Adams scored kill, then she and Larson had back-to-back points to extend Team USA’s lead to 19-14. Adams downed a kill and Puerto Rico hit into the net to put the Americans up 21-15. Team USA’s advantage reached eight points at 23-15 with a Murphy kill and she finished the match with a kill at 25-17 in the third set.