COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (June 23, 2018) – Kelsey Robinson (Manhattan Beach, California) had donned the libero jersey in the past, but never for the U.S. Women’s National Team until May 17 during the third match of the FIVB Volleyball Nations League this year.
What resulted was a stabilized Team USA offense after the team started the VNL with a 1-1 record on home soil in Lincoln, Nebraska. Robinson started the final 13 VNL preliminary round matches at libero, averaging 2.09 digs per set. She ranked fourth in the FIVB’s Best Digger category, which ranks digs against the number sets the team plays versus how many individual sets played. Robinson also ranked third in Best Receiver with a 19.67 efficiency percent, handling 239 receptions with 63 excellent passes.
“We did struggle a little bit in Lincoln,” U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly said. “The big part of the turnaround was stabilizing our serve reception, as Kelsey switched positions to libero. She has really embraced the role, and is diving into it and taking great pride in making us better in a new position. We are very grateful for that.”
The U.S. Women have earned a spot in the VNL Final Six in Nanjing, China. The Americans will face Turkey on June 27 at 3 a.m. ET, followed by Serbia on June 29 at 3 a.m. ET in Pool B. Turkey and Serbia are the only teams to have beaten Team USA in the preliminary round. The opposite pool has host China, Brazil and Netherlands – three teams that the U.S. had defeated in the preliminary phase.
To learn more about Robinson’s transition to being libero and her thoughts on the Volleyball Nations League, check out the Q&A below.
USA Volleyball: You had a few days off after getting back from Argentina and the long five-week preliminary round that took the team to five different countries and three continents. What did you do when you first got back to Anaheim?
Robinson: “I went to breakfast and sat on the beach. I didn’t do anything. It was nice to do nothing.”
USA Volleyball: How did the change in position happen? How much notice were you given?
Robinson: “We had a conversation before I started this this summer with the National Team. I told him that I would love to do it, I’d also love to play outside. Whatever the team needs. I think he just saw that we needed to have good passing, someone with good ball control. I have also played professionally as a libero, and I know the ropes a little bit.”
USA Volleyball: Any anxiety donning the libero jersey in that first match, especially playing at home in front of family and friends?
Robinson: “I just didn’t want to do anything wrong, as far as coming in for the middles or being out of rotation. That was the big. Just don’t mess that up.”
USA Volleyball: Since your transition to libero, what have been elements of the game that you have been concentrating more on improving now that your focus is backrow?
Robinson: “I have been trying to take more court to make it easier for our outsides. Just to be a reminder as far as giving information and giving assertive calls. I guess my whole outlook has been to make it easier for everyone else to focus on their jobs. It gives them one less thing to worry about – clear them up to pass or give a good call for their job at the net.”
USA Volleyball: Do you see this as a permanent move to libero for the National Team? How about your pro club?
Robinson: “I think we are just going to take it day-by-day right now. I could see myself playing libero. I could also see myself playing outside. Whatever the team needs, whatever the role I could do to help. I have signed with VakifBank already, so I will be an outside for the next pro season.”
USA Volleyball: Have you reached out to other liberos for advice such as Kayla Banwarth, who was our 2016 Olympic libero who won bronze?
Robinson: “Kayla was there at Nebraska when I moved to libero, and she gave me some help. Tama Miyashiro (2012 Olympic silver medalist), of course is our coach, so I learn a lot from her. Right now it is a lot of video. When we get back from Volleyball Nations League, I will finally have three months to train for the World Championship. I am excited for that.”
USA Volleyball: The team ran off 10 straight wins – nine in straight sets – after a rocky start at home. What do you attribute to the team’s turnaround?
Robinson: “We hadn’t had a lot of training together. I think that first week was a lot of getting used to each other again. I landed on a Tuesday and was in the gym on a Wednesday (U.S. played first VNL match six days later). Once we started training again and traveling, everything got better and better and better as we got more familiar. Good ball control and winning the serve-and-pass game is our number-one thing. When we do that, everything falls together.”
USA Volleyball: Karch has been able to have 12 different starting lineups in the preliminary round with essentially Carli Lloyd and yourself as the only ones staying in the lineup. Is it difficult to have someone different next to you on the court for nearly all your matches?
Robinson: “I think it is challenging every time, but I think it ultimately gives us an advantage over other teams because every single person has confidence in themselves and each other. I think in the long run, I think it is a huge advantage for us.”
USA Volleyball: Team USA will face Turkey and Serbia in the Finals Round pool play, and they are the only two teams to defeat you this year. What did you learn from these matches and how do you go into the rematches?
Robinson: “I think we just need to focus on our side of the net. We need to focus on our serve-and-pass game, turning points when we dig balls. Everything on our side of the net. I don’t think we need to worry about who we are playing or what is happening on the other side the net.”
USA Volleyball: Unlike the World Grand Prix, the VNL is a true round robin in the preliminary round. Would you prefer to meet up with Turkey and Serbia in the pool play, as it so happened, knowing they are the only teams to beat you in the prelims?
Robinson: “I am just excited to be in the Finals Week and knowing every team can compete. It doesn’t really matter who it is. I am excited to play great volleyball.”
USA Volleyball: Michelle Bartsch-Hackley has had a breakout season so far on the international scene, though you and your teammates know full well what she is capable of after earning the team’s Most Improved Player in 2017. What do you see as part of her success this year?
Robinson: “I think she is the type of player who works hard, keeps going and keep going, no matter if she is getting on the team or not, or getting the credit she deserves or not. I am so happy about it. She is finally getting the credit and recognition she deserves. She’s been putting in the work and trusting herself. I am excited to play next to her.”