COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (June 29, 2018) – The U.S. Women’s National Team, ranked second in the world, advanced into the FIVB Volleyball Nations League Final Six semifinals with a 29-27, 25-22, 25-19 sweep over third-ranked Serbia to conclude Pool B on Friday in Nanjing, China.
The U.S. Women, which finished the VNL 15-match round-robin preliminary round in first place with a 13-2 record, will now face China in the semifinals on Saturday at 7:45 a.m. ET. challenging opponent in Saturday’s semifinal. The other semifinal pits Pool A winner China against Pool B’s second-place Turkey at 3 a.m. ET preceding the USA-China match. During the preliminary phase, the U.S. defeated Brazil (3-1) and China (3-0) on back-to-back days on June 6-7 in China.
As the Final Six pools aligned, Team USA was set to meet Turkey and Serbia in Pool B – the only two opponents that beat the Americans during the preliminary round. On Wednesday, the Americans recovered from a 2-0 deficit to win a thrilling five-set match over Turkey. Serbia, which defeated Team USA in the 2016 Olympic Games semifinal, had snapped Team USA’s 10-match VNL win streak with a 3-1 victory on June 12. The U.S. is now 15-2 overall in the inaugural Volleyball Nations League with 12 of the victories in straight sets.
The U.S. built a 13-6 lead over Serbia in the opening set with a 10-2 run. After trailing 16-8, Serbia responded with a 13-4 run to take the lead at 21-20. The Americans saved one set point, then won the set 29-27 on its fourth set point chance. Team USA overcame a 20-18 deficit in the second set and scored the final three points to take the set 25-22. The U.S. charged to a 14-6 advantage in the third set, then withstood a Serbia charge to within two (15-13) to win 25-19.
“We love playing against the great teams in the world,” U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly said. “Serbia is certainly one of those great teams that we have a great deal of respect for, for the players, their coaches and their program. Whether we win or lose, we learn a lot because the two teams push each other and make things difficult. This was a good learning moment, and we are very happy to advance to tomorrow’s semifinals.”
Outside hitter Michelle Bartsch-Hackley (Champaign, Illinois) paced the American attack with 16 points. She tallied 14 kills on 32 swings and two aces. Opposite Kelly Murphy (Wilmington, Illinois) charted nine points with eight kills on 25 swings and a block. Middle Foluke Akinradewo (Fort Lauderdale, Florida) contributed five kills on nine swings and a team-leading four blocks for nine points.
Bartsch-Hackley, Team USA’s leading scorer for the tournament with 224 points and 32 in the Final Six, gives credit back to her teammates to allow her to play loose.
“I think my teammates are trusting me a lot, which is really nice for me so that I can play free at all points in time,” Bartsch-Hackley said. “I think my teammates are.”
Outside hitter Jordan Larson (Hooper, Nebraska) scored eight kills on 20 attacks. Setter Carli Lloyd (Bonsall, California) provided two kills on two attacks and three blocks for five points. Middle Tori Dixon (Burnsville, Minnesota) pocketed three kills on eight attacks and block. The double-sub of Annie Drews (Elkhart, Indiana) and Micha Hancock (Edmond, Oklahoma) rounded out the scoring with two and one point, respectively.
Libero Kelsey Robinson (Manhattan Beach, California) charted a team-leading 63 positive reception percent on 19 chances. Bartsch-Hackley was credited with a 53 positive reception percent on a team-best 30 chances.
Lloyd and Hancock set the American offense to a 43 kill percent and .229 hitting efficiency. Team USA held Serbia to a 41 kill percent and .202 hitting efficiency.
Although Serbia out-blocked the U.S. 13-9 and held a 44-42 advantage in kills, Team USA benefited from 25 errors. Meanwhile, the U.S. limited its errors to nine for the match. The Americans was credited with a 27-22 margin in digs and 3-2 edge in aces.
Bartsch-Hackley noted the difference between Wednesday’s five-set thrilling win over Turkey and today’s match against Serbia really came down to being patient.
“I think we were really patient, which (Wednesday) we were not patient very much,” Bartsch-Hackley said. “I think we learned a lot (on Wednesday against Turkey). We seem to learn a lot from Turkey every time we play them. We learned a lot from that match and we improved.”
Knowing how it had come back from a 2-0 deficit on Wednesday, Team USA was not about to let off the pedal after going up 2-0 versus Serbia with a spot into the VNL semifinals on the line.
“Every team is good here, and I think we proved that yesterday being down 0-2 and coming back,” Bartsch-Hackley said. “I think it is more fun for us to just keep going at them really hard when we are up. I think we play a lot more free when that happens.”
Serbian star opposite Tijana Boskovic had a monster performance with 27 points via 25 kills on 45 swings and two blocks as the only player in double-digit scoring.
The U.S. started Lloyd at setter, Murphy at opposite, Bartsch-Hackley and Larson at outside, and Akinradewo and Dixon at middle. Robinson served as the libero. Drews and Hancock were used as double subs in the first two sets, while Kim Hill (Portland, Oregon) was a serving sub in all three sets.
Serbia scored three unanswered points to take a 3-1 advantage early in the opening set. Murphy slammed a kill off the block and Bartsch-Hackley followed with a block to tie the set at 3-all. Team USA took the lead at 6-4 with a Bartsch-Hackley kill, Serbia error and Akinradewo block. The Americans went into the first technical timeout leading 8-5 with an Akinradewo kill and Bartsch-Hackley ace. Out of the break, the U.S. raised its margin to five with another Bartsch-Hackley ace and Murphy kill at 10-5. Bartsch-Hackley drilled a back-court kill and Dixon put up a block to extend Team USA’s advantage o 12-6. Out of Serbia’s second timeout, Larson hit a cross-court winner to push the lead to 13-6. Dixon hammered a kill and Serbia committed an error to build the American lead to 15-8. Serbia sliced five points off its deficit at 16-13. Bartsch-Hackley ended the 5-0 Serbia run with a kill and Akinradewo followed with an overpass kill at 18-13. Serbia took the lead at 21-20 with six unanswered points. Dixon slammed a kill to save one set point and the Americans went in front 25-24 with a Serbia attack error. On its fourth set point chance, the U.S. won the set 29-27 with a Dixon block.
Team USA went up 2-0 to start the second set with kills from Bartsch-Hackley and Murphy. The U.S. went into the second technical timeout leading 8-5 with an Akinradewo kill. Serbia closed to within one at 9-8 following a block. Larson slammed a kill and Murphy formed a block for an 11-8 American lead. Serbia answered with consecutive points to close to 11-10, then knotted the score at 12-all. Serbia gained its first lead of the set at 14-13 and then pushed it to 15-13 as part of a 3-0 run. Team USA quickly tied it at 15-all with a Serbia service error and Hancock ace. The U.S. took the lead back with consecutive Drews kills at 17-16. Serbia swung the lead to its side at 20-18 with three consecutive points. The Americans responded with a Lloyd kill and Serbia error to tie the set at 20-all, then Larson gave the Americans the lead back at 21-20. Out of a Serbia timeout, Team USA inched its cushion to two at 22-20 with a Serbia error capping an American 4-0 run. Serbia answered with wo unanswered points to level the score at 22-all. The Americans picked up set points at 24-22 with a Serbia service error and Bartsch-Hackley kill. Team USA finished the set on its first chance at 25-22 with a Serbia net violation.
The Americans started the third set with a 3-0 lead with a Serbia service and attack error followed by a Bartsch-Hackley overpass kill. Serbia stopped the run with two straight points to cut the deficit to 3-2. Team USA raised its lead to four with a Serbia service error and consecutive Akinradewo blocks at 6-2. The Americans extended their lead to 9-4 with a Serbia service error and Bartsch-Hackley back-row kill. Akinradewo and Dixon roofed Serbia on consecutive attacks to raise the U.S. lead to 11-5. Team USA built its margin to 13-6 with two Serbia errors. Serbia closed to 14-11 with four unanswered points, then moved to within two at 15-13. Team USA raised its cushion back to four at 20-16 with a Larson kill and Serbia attack error. Bartsch-Hackley hammered a cross-court winner, then Akinradewo and Bartsch-Hackley slammed consecutive overpass kills at 24-18. Bartsch-Hackley finished the set with a winner down the line at 25-19.