COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (June 7, 2017) – The U.S. Women’s National Volleyball Team, ranked No. 2 in the world by the FIVB, enters the first year of the 2020 Olympic quadrennial with many fresh faces coming off a bronze-medal performance at the 2016 Olympic Games.
The team opened its 2017 training season on May 1 at the American Sports Centers in Anaheim – the host city for the U.S. Women’s and Men’s National Teams. U.S. Women’s National Team Head coach Karch Kiraly has invited a couple dozen new players to train with the National Team this summer, giving each an opportunity to impress the staff and earn coveted tournament roster spots.
While the newcomers are making their cases for staying in the gym, many of the veterans will take some time away from the gym early this summer to recover from an intensive 2016-17 volleyball season that went directly from the Olympic Games into the overseas professional league seasons without a break. In addition, the National Team staff will seek to fill voids left by a handful of retirements – middle Christa Dietzen, setter Courtney Thompson and libero Kayla Banwarth – along with some 2016 Olympians and other veterans who have opted to step away from the game at least temporarily.
The U.S. Women will participate in three international tournaments in 2017, along with a friendly home match versus No. 19 Canada and hosting No. 4 Brazil in the two-match USA Volleyball Cup. After four Red-Blue intrasquad scrimmages in Southern California, the Americans host Canada on June 13 in San Juan Capistrano, California (at JSerra High School), before both teams head to the Pan American Cup in Lima, Peru.
The Pan Am Cup, slated for June 17-25, is in its 16th year as teams from NORCECA (North America, Central America and Caribbean) and South America confederations compete for the title. The Americans have won the event three of the past five years with mainly a younger roster to gain international experience. The 12-team Pan American Cup has two six-team preliminary round pools that will play a full round-round schedule. Team USA is part of Group A with matches against Venezuela on June 17, Colombia on June 18, Puerto Rico on June 19, Mexico on June 20 and Argentina on June 21. Group B includes Canada, Chile, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Peru and Trinidad & Tobago. After an off day on June 22, the quarterfinals round will take the second- and third-place teams from both groups and play crossover matches to determine which two teams will advance to the June 24 semifinals to join the respective pool winners. The tournament concludes on June 25 with the medal round matches and other classification matches.
Team USA has a demanding FIVB World Grand Prix preliminary round schedule that takes them to China the first two weeks followed by Brazil for the third weekend. In their opening weekend, the Americans face powerhouses No. 5 Russia, No. 8 Italy and No. 1 China in Kunshan, China from July 7-9. The U.S. preliminary schedule doesn’t get easier July 16-18 in Macau as it has rematches with China and Italy after a match-up against improving Turkey, ranked No. 12 in the world. To end the nine-match preliminary schedule, the Americans travel to Cuiaba, Brazil, to face No. 7 Netherlands, No. 16 Belgium and Brazil. To advance to the World Grand Prix Finals in Nanjing, China, Team USA must finish among the top five teams other than host China in the preliminary standings. The U.S. has won the World Grand Prix six teams, second most behind Brazil.
The U.S. has named its 21-player preliminary roster for the 2017 FIVB World Grand Prix, the premier annual international women’s volleyball tournament. The four setters selected to the preliminary roster are Lauren Carlini (Aurora, Illinois), Lexi Dannemiller (West Chester, Ohio), Micha Hancock (Edmond, Oklahoma) and Carli Lloyd (Bonsall, California). The three opposites named to the roster are Annie Drews (Elkhart, Indiana), Liz McMahon (Liberty Township, Ohio) and Kelly Murphy (Wilmington, Illinois). The three liberos tabbed to the preliminary roster are Amanda Benson (Litchfield Park, Arizona), Kristen Hahn (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) and Justine Wong-Orantes (Cypress, California).
The six middles selected to the roster are Tori Dixon (Burnsville, Minnesota), Lauren Gibbemeyer (St. Paul, Minnesota), Molly McCage (Spring, Texas), Amber Rolfzen (Papillion, Nebraska), Hannah Tapp (Stewartville, Minnesota) and Paige Tapp (Stewartville, Minnesota). The five outside hitters chosen for the squad are Michelle Bartsch (Maryville, Illinois), Megan Courtney (Dayton, Ohio), Madi Kingdon (Phoenix, Arizona), Sonja Newcombe (Lake Arrowhead, California) and Sarah Wilhite (Eden Prairie, Minnesota).
The U.S. Women will host Brazil in the USA Volleyball Cup Aug. 27 and Aug. 29 at the Anaheim Convention Center Arena. The South American rivals also played Team USA in the 2014 USA Volleyball Cup. Both teams will use the USA Volleyball Cup matches as final tune-ups for the FIVB World Grand Champions Cup that takes place in Tokyo and Nagoya, Japan, from Sept. 5-10. Team USA will face the defending Olympic Games champion to open the tournament, followed by No. 10 Korea, Russia, No. 6 Japan and Brazil.
New Storylines for 2017
Dixon on Comeback Trail: Just a few weeks after earning Best Blocker at the 2015 FIVB World Cup and at the 2016 NORCECA Olympic Qualification Tournament, Tori Dixon (Burnsville, Minnesota) suffered an ACL tear in January 2016 while playing for her Japanese pro team Toray Arrows. After showing great promise on making the 2016 Olympic roster, Dixon missed out achieving her dream of playing in the Olympics. Since her surgery in 2016, she has been committed to coming back strong and competing for a spot in the 2020 Olympics. Dixon is used to overcoming the odds as she had heart surgery in 2013 prior to her senior season at the University of Minnesota.
New Faces, Great Opportunity: The U.S. Women’s National Team will have several new faces in the USA gym this summer as head coach Karch Kiraly evaluates young players and those who have been playing pro for a few seasons but outside the National Team spotlight. As many as seven players from the 2016 U.S. Olympic Games roster have retired or will likely take time off during the 2017, creating a prime opportunity for the new generation of athletes to showcase their talents and remain in the USA gym for the full quadrennial leading up to Tokyo.
Newbies at Setter: The 2017 season will have vast competition at setter with 2016 Olympians Courtney Thompson and Alisha Glass not with the team. Four setters with limited international experience and within two years of college graduation will be in the USA gym training alongside 2016 Olympian Carli Lloyd. The young talent at setter includes Lauren Carlini, who earlier this year won the prestigious Sullivan Award as the best amateur athlete following her four-year career at University of Wisconsin. Micha Hancock, who has two professional seasons under her belt, has a wicked serve to go with her setting abilities that led Penn State to back-to-back NCAA titles in 2013-14. Hancock set serving records at the 2016 Pan American Cup for most aces in a match and tournament. Other setters having the opportunity to prove themselves are Stanford University product Madi Bugg and University of Michigan’s Lexi Dannemiller.
Seeing Double: Having siblings competing on the U.S. Women’s National Team at the same time has been a rare occurrence, but that is all changing this summer. Team USA has two sets of sisters – twins no less – training together in Anaheim. Paige and Hannah Tapp (Stewartville, Minnesota) have joined the national team, and both are training at the middle blocker spot. Twins Amber and Kadie Rolfzen (Papillion, Nebraska) also join the squad this summer, but at different positions. Amber is a middle, while Kadie is an opposite.
Still in Search of Olympic Gold: The U.S. Women’s National Team has been one of the most storied volleyball programs in the world, yet it has not come away with gold at the Olympic Games and has just one major title win – 2014 FIVB World Championship. The Americans have medaled in the last three Olympic Games, including falling to Brazil in the 2008 and 2012 gold-medal match and finishing with bronze in 2016.
Other Story Starters for 2017
- The U.S. Women have medaled in each of the last three Olympic Games, winning silver in 2008 and 2012 before finishing with bronze in 2016. The storied program has yet to win the Olympic Games gold.
- Head Coach Karch Kiraly, named “Player of the Century” by the FIVB, is the only person to win Olympic gold medals in both indoor (1984 and 1988) and beach volleyball (1996). After serving as an assistant with the U.S. Women during the 2009-2012 quad, he accepted the head job in September 2012. As head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team program, Kiraly has lead Team USA to a 126-24 record over the last four years.
- Kim Hill – almost did not attend a 2013 U.S. Women’s National Team Open Tryout thinking she was not good enough and came out of the tryout of 240 athletes earning a spot in the USA gym in May. Within 21 months of the tryout was selected the most valuable player of the 2014 FIVB World Championship as the U.S. won its first triple crown title (Olympics, FIVB World Championship, FIVB World Cup). She became a starter at outside hitter on the bronze-medal winning U.S. Olympic Team in 2016.
- Tori Dixon –father played in the NFL and is the second player from New Zealand to play in an NFL game.
- Jordan Larson – a Nebraska legend, became an international star from a hometown of 830 population in Hooper, Nebraska … teammates call her ‘The Governor’ … owns a restaurant in Lincoln called Flatwater Bistro … two-time Olympian with silver in 2012 and bronze in 2016 … Earned back-to-back USA Volleyball Female Indoor Player of the Year in 2015 and 2016.
- Foluke Akinradewo – after her playing career is over, wants to pursue a career in the medical profession and she is already a certified EMT … holds tri-citizenship along with Canada and Nigeria … has made two Olympic Games rosters and selected to 2016 Olympic Dream Team at middle blocker.
- Rachael Adams – earned a starting middle blocker role on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team after an impressive season that earned her USA Volleyball’s Female Indoor Most Improved Player of the Year following a 2015 season in which she did not make any of the top tier international tournament rosters … her father was drafted in the fourth round of the 1978 NBA draft by the San Antonio Spurs.
- Carli Lloyd – the name may be the same as the star on the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, but Carli Lloyd of USA Volleyball is making a name for herself after making the 2016 U.S. Olympic Volleyball Team and named most valuable player of the 2015 Pan American Games … she has also tackled depression early in the 2016 Olympic quad … uncle is Galen Tomlinson, who was Turbo in the 1980s television series American Gladiator and became a father figure to Carli after her father passed away when she was 4.
- Kelsey Robinson – 2016 Olympic bronze medalist has created her own travel website where she explores cities for 24 hours and writes a blog about her experiences. The site can be reached at apassporttoplay.com.