RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (Aug. 14, 2016) – The U.S. Olympic Women’s Volleyball Team, ranked No. 1 in the world, overcame a slow start with an uncharacteristic number of errors to defeat No. 3 China 22-25, 25-17, 25-19, 25-19 Sunday evening in Rio de Janeiro to conclude the Olympic Games Pool B undefeated in five matches and earn the group’s top seed heading into the quarterfinal round.
Team USA will face Japan, the fourth-place team in Pool A, in the quarterfinals on Tuesday at a time to be announced. The Americans, who are in search of their first Olympic Games gold medal in women’s volleyball, finished pool play with a 5-0 record for the second consecutive Olympic Games. The U.S. has finished with the silver in each of the past two Olympics Games.
“Coming into this Olympic Games, our group looked like it would present many, many challenges and that is exactly what it has done,” U.S. Olympic Women’s Volleyball Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly said. “From our start with Puerto Rico all the way to China today, I think every team in this group is better because we all challenged each other so much. So now four of our teams are excited to move on to see what happens in two days in the quarterfinals.”
Earlier today Netherlands edged Serbia in a five-set thriller, which meant Team USA needed to win just two sets against China to earn Pool B’s top seed based on tiebreakers. At the same time, the Netherlands/Serbia result locked in China as the No. 4 seed and Serbia as the No. 3 seed prior to the USA-China outcome.
The top four teams from the two six-team pools advance to the quarterfinals with the top seeds crossing over to play the opposite pool’s fourth seed. A drawing of lots following pool play will determine crossover matches for the pool’s second- and third seeds.
Team USA had four players score in double figures against China led by outside hitter Jordan Larson (Hooper, Nebraska), who had 18 points with 15 kills on 34 attacks, two aces and a block. Middle Foluke Akinradewo (Plantation, Florida) contributed 15 points with 13 kills on 23 attacks and two blocks. Opposite Kelly Murphy (Wilmington, Illinois) pocketed 13 points with 11 kills on 28 swings and two aces.
Outside hitter Kelsey Robinson (Bartlett, Illinois), who was a sub in the first two sets, provided a huge spark in starting the final two sets with 11 kills on 22 swings and just two errors to go with a block and ace for 13 points.
“We have played China what feels like a thousand times, so you know the opponent, what they are good at, what they are not,” Robinson said. “Our team played really well, especially when they pushed back. Just taking it one point at a time. That is all we had to do.”
China built an early 17-11 lead in the opening set as the Americans were plagued by errors, but Team USA closed the gap to 21-20 before falling 25-22. China took advantage of nine U.S. errors in the set and added five blocks. Team USA, using the late momentum from the first set, settled down in the second set in establishing a 17-10 lead and kept the pressure going for a 25-17 victory. After China closed four-point deficit down to 17-15 in the third, the Americans responded by quickly regaining the four-point cushion and finishing the set with a 25-19 victory.
“I thought we missed quite a few serves in the first set, but we came out stronger in the second – just serving it and keeping the ball in making China play a little bit,” Larson said. “The more we got them out of system, the less we had to worry about their middles. I thought we did a nice job of handling that.”
“I think we got off to a slow start,” U.S. Olympic Women’s Volleyball Team captain Christa Dietzen(Hopewell Township, Pennsylvania) said. “But (U.S. head coach) Karch (Kiraly) said it best. He said ‘We have a chance to rewrite the match in the middle of the first set, and our team responded well. I think we have been able to respond well this whole tournament. We are team that handles adversity, and we have certainly faced a lot of adversity in this pool and will continue to heading into the quarterfinal round. We are excited to face our next opponent.”
Even after clinching Pool B’s top spot into the quarterfinals with its second set victory, Team USA didn’t let up in the fourth set in racing to a 13-5 advantage. However, China used an 8-2 rally to close within 15-13, but it wasn’t enough as Team USA scored six of the final eight points for a 25-19 victory.
Dietzen pocketed six points in the victory after not starting the opening set. Outside hitter Kim Hill (Portland, Oregon), who started the first two sets, amassed five points in the victory. Setter Alisha Glass (Leland, Michigan) and middle Rachael Adam (Cincinnati, Ohio) totaled two points each, while Karsta Lowe (Rancho Santa Fe, California) rounded out the scoring with a kill.
Team USA converted 46.0 percent of its attacks into points with a .336 hitting efficiency (63-17-137) as Glass was credited with 51 running sets on 102 total set attempts. In contrast, the American defense limited the Chinese to a .244 hitting efficiency (48-18-123).
Larson led the U.S. in digs with 14, along with 10 excellent receptions on 21 errorless chances. Libero Kayla Banwarth (Dubuque, Iowa) was credited with nine digs and five excellent receptions on 17 chances. Robinson contributed eight excellent receptions on 23 chances and six digs.
Although China held an 11-7 block advantage with five coming in the opening set, the Americans were otherwise dominant on the offensive end with a 63-48 kill advantage and 5-3 edge in aces. After the U.S. committed nine errors in the opening set, it limited its total errors to 18 for the match while benefitting from 22 Chinese errors.
Entering the Olympics, Kiraly felt it would be difficult for any team to go undefeated in Pool B. But now says the results from the pool play are essentially washed away and teams start anew in the quarterfinal round.
“At the beginning, I wasn’t at all convinced that anyone could go undefeated,” Kiraly said. “These are the teams, China, Netherlands, Serbia, Italy with long histories of success. We are happy to come out first, to come out undefeated. And that counts for nothing now except for our quarterfinal bid, and maybe a face an opponent who did not do as well in other group. But all the teams coming from that group are also very strong.”
Robinson said that going 5-0 in pool play does give Team USA one major advantage besides getting the top seed.
“I think we have a lot of team momentum,” Robinson said. “I think everybody is rested and ready to go.”
Including its four-set win over China in the World Championship title match, the U.S. is 7-4 in the last 11 meetings with China.
Since the U.S. lost to Italy in the 2014 FIVB World Championship Finals Round pool play on Oct. 8, Team USA has won six tournaments including that very World Championship. The U.S. holds an overall 68-9 record since that loss.
USA is 17-2 in its last 16 Olympic Games matches dating back to Aug. 13, 2008. The only two losses have been to Brazil in the gold-medal match of the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games.
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.
After the opening points of the first set were marred by service and hitting errors, China took the lead at 5-3. Team USA’s mistakes continued to mount as China took a 12-9 advantage on the Americans’ sixth error of the set. After an American timeout, the U.S. cut the gap to 12-11 with a China error and Lowe block. China answered with five consecutive points to establish a 17-11 advantage. Adams stopped the run with a kill and China followed with a hitting error to cut the deficit to 17-13. Larson served an ace after a Chinese service error to narrow the American deficit to 18-15. Adams put up a block and Murphy followed with a cross-court winner to close the gap to 19-17. Akinradewo slammed a kill and Larson came back with a block to cut the gap to a single point at 21-20. However, USA had a hitting error and China served an ace to extend its lead to 23-20 and made the lead hold up for a 25-22 first set victory.
Hill hammered three kills and Akinradewo hammered two kills to put the Americans up 5-2 early in the second set. Out of a China timeout, the Americans increased the lead to 6-2 with a China error. However, China knocked two points off the deficit at 6-4. Team USA jumped the lead to five points at 10-5 with three consecutive Larson kills, then China committed an error at 11-5 for a fourth straight USA point. Robinson put up a solo block in her first rotation to the front to extend the American lead to 14-7. Dietzen hammered a kill and Akinradewo followed with a block to inch Team USA’s lead to 16-8. China shaved two points off the American lead at 16-10. Akinradewo crushed a winner and Robinson served an ace to move the American lead to 19-11, but China recorded the next two points to pull within six at 19-13. China scored two unanswered points to close to 21-15. Murphy killed off the China block to raise the American lead to 23-16. Dietzen gave the Americans set point 24-16 with a block. After China saved on set point, Robinson ended it with a kill at 25-17.
Robinson scored back-to-back kills to give the Americans their first lead of the third set at 2-1. China reversed the lead to 5-3 with three unanswered points. Larson answered with back-to-back kills to level the score at 5-all, then Larson stuffed China to give the U.S. a 6-5 lead. China came back with the next two points to lead 7-6. Dietzen scored a block to even the set and China hit into the net to give the U.S. an 8-7 lead. Larson slammed a kill off the block and aced China to extend the American lead to 10-8. Back-to-back China errors pushed the American lead to 12-9. Akinradewo tipped over the China block twice in a row to extend Team USA’s lead to 14-10. China won a successful video challenge and followed immediately with an ace to cut the gap in half at 17-15. Dietzen and Robinson extended Team USA’s lead back to four at 18-14 with consecutive kills. China hit wide to give the Americans set points at 24-19, then Dietzen ended the set at 25-19.
Team USA opened a 4-2 lead in the fourth set at Robinson slammed a kill followed by a Murphy ace. The Americans extended the lead to 9-4 with consecutive China errors followed by a Larson kill. Following a China timeout, the U.S. scored a fourth straight point with another China error at 10-4. Murphy scored back-to-back kills to extend the American lead to 13-5. China closed to within two at 15-13 on an 8-2 run. Akinradewo ended the spurt with a kill capping a long rally, and Murphy followed with an ace to yield an American 17-13 advantage. However, China cut the deficit in half to within two at 19-17. Glass won a joust at the net and Larson slammed a kill to put the Americans back in front by four, 21-17. Murphy hit a winner and China hit long to give the Americans a 23-18 lead. Team USA closed out the match with consecutive kills by Murphy and Robinson for the 25-19 victory.