COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (June 30, 2018) – The U.S. Women’s National Team, ranked second in the world, is one victory away from making history in the inaugural FIVB Volleyball Nations League as it defeated top-ranked China 25-23, 25-20, 18-25, 25-18 in the semifinal round Saturday 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 meet Turkey in the gold-medal match on Sunday at 7 a.m. ET. The match will be streamed on flovolleyball.tv. Earlier today Turkey upset Brazil 25-23, 25-23, 25-22 in the semifinals to reach the gold-medal match.
The U.S. is now 16-2 overall in the inaugural Volleyball Nations League with 12 of the victories in straight sets.
China used two 5-0 runs to build a 15-9 advantage in the opening set, but the U.S. rallied back to win 25-23 including three blocks to close out the set. The Americans gained a 15-9 lead in the second set. Unlike China in the opening set with an identical lead, the U.S. weathered a storm in which the Chinese moved to within two at 19-17 to win 25-20. After trailing 7-3 in the third set, China used a 12-3 run to propel it to a 25-18 victory. The Americans inched their way to a 16-10 advantage in the fourth set, and never let the host Chinese back into the match with a 25-18 victory.
Outside hitter Michelle Bartsch-Hackley (Champaign, Illinois), Team USA’s leading scorer in the tournament, led the Americans with 24 points with 22 kills on 55 swings and two blocks. Middle Foluke Akinradewo (Ft. Lauderdale, Florida) was on fire offensively with 13 kills on 22 swings and a block. Opposite Kelly Murphy (Wilmington, Illinois) tacked on 10 kills on 26 swings, two blocks and an ace for 13 points.
Akinradewo feels the long preliminary schedule helped the Americans to come back from the third-set loss. During the 15-match preliminary round, the U.S. utilized 12 different starting lineups and needed to comeback in several tough situations.
“I think in general, it has been a long tournament,” Akinradewo said. “We have had a lot of battles, a lot of tough situations. I think we put ourselves in positions to be ready for that, to regroup, to bring more energy. I think that helped us out in the fourth set.”
Outside Kim Hill (Portland, Oregon), who came off the bench and started the fourth set, sparked the U.S. offense after losing the third set. She contributed 10 points – all in the fourth set – with nine kills on 19 swings and an ace. Middle Tori Dixon (Burnsville, Minnesota) pocketed five kills on 16 attacks, three blocks and an ace for nine points.
Outside hitter Jordan Larson (Hooper, Nebraska) totaled six points with four kills, one block and one ace. Annie Drews (Elkhart, Indiana), who was the opposite in the double sub with setter Micha Hancock (Edmond, Oklahoma) in all four sets, charted three kills on six swings. Setter Carli Lloyd (Bonsall, California) rounded out the scoring with a block.
Libero Kelsey Robinson (Manhattan Beach, California) accounted for 13 receptions with a 62 positive percent. Bartsch-Hackley handled a team-leading 41 receptions with a 56 positive percent. Hill had a 75 positive reception percent on 12 chances.
The American offense converted on 41 percent of its attacks with a .293 hitting efficiency (66-19-160) as Lloyd and Hancock directed the attack. Team USA limited China to a 40 kill percent and a .279 hitting efficiency (54-16-136).
Akinradewo said the team is more than just the six players inside the white lines, and it takes all 14 players to win.
“We are all 14 strong,” Akinradewo said. “Whether we are on the court or not, they are bringing a lot of energy.”
Team USA held a 10-7 margin in blocks to go with a 66-55 advantage in kills. Both teams served four aces. China benefited from 20 American errors and limited its own mistakes to 13. The U.S. held a 48-41 margin in digs and a 22-19 edge in excellent receptions.
China’s star Zhu Ting, the 2016 Olympic Games most valuable player, led her squad with 18 points, while Li Yingying came off the bench to provide 14 points in starting just the fourth set.
USA and Turkey split a pair of five-set matches in which Turkey led 2-0 in each contest. In the first meeting, Turkey won 3-2 on USA soil in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Americans opened the Final Six Pool B trailing Turkey 2-0 before rallying for a 3-2 win this past Wednesday.
“We are facing a really tough Turkish team,” Akinradewo said. “They have surprised a lot of people in this tournament. They come with a lot of energy. (Turkish Head Coach Giovanni Guidetti) does a really good job coaching them. It will take a lot of focus and a lot of energy on our side, staying patient to have a good match tomorrow.”
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.
The U.S. took a 4-2 lead with kills from Bartsch-Hackley, Murphy and Akinradewo. China rattled off five unanswered points to take an 8-5 advantage into the technical timeout. Bartsch-Hackley scored consecutive kills out of the timeout to close the American deficit to 8-7. China notched five straight points to stake a 15-9 advantage. Team USA cut two points off the deficit with a China service error and Bartsch-Hackley overpass kill at 15-11. The Americans sliced the gap to 18-16 with two kills from Drews around a Bartsch-Hackley back-row kill. China rebuilt a four-point cushion at 20-16 with back-to-back points. Team USA answered with kills from Akinradewo and Bartsch-Hackley and a China error to close to within 20-19. The U.S. squared the set at 22-all with a Dixon kill followed by an ace by Larson. The Americans went in front 24-23 with blocks from Dixon and Murphy, then Akinradewo finished it at 25-23 with another block.
China scored the opening two points of the second set. Team USA used a 3-0 run to take a 4-3 advantage with a Dixon block and two Akinradewo kills. Akinradewo slammed consecutive kills and China hit long to yield an 8-5 American lead. The U.S. extended its lead to 11-7 with a Larson kill and China error. Dixon hammered a kill and Bartsch-Hackley followed with a winner to prompt China to call timeout down 14-9. Out of the timeout, Bartsch-Hackley downed an attack at 15-9. The American advantage stretched to 18-11 with consecutive Akinradewo kills. China closed the deficit to 18-14 with a 3-0 run, then moved to within three at 19-17 on a 3-0 run. The Americans rebuilt its margin to four at 22-18 with kills from Larson and Murphy. Out of a China timeout, Murphy put up a block to extend the U.S. lead to 23-18. Team USA won the set 25-20 on a China service error.
The U.S. gained its first lead of the third set at 3-2 with a Dixon kill and Bartsch-Hackley block. The Americans advanced their lead to 7-3 with a Bartsch-Hackley kill, Lloyd block and consecutive China errors. China responded with a 6-0 run, including two aces, to take a 9-7 advantage. Team USA answered with an Akinradewo block after a China service error to level the set at 9-all. However, China upped its lead to 15-10 on a 6-1 scoring run. Team USA trimmed the gap to 15-12 with kills from Bartsch-Hackley and Dixon. China scored points on each side of the second technical timeout to raise its lead to 17-12. China raised its margin to six at 21-15. China reached set points at 24-17. China finished the set at 25-18.
The U.S. gained a 2-1 lead in the fourth set with kills from Hill and Murphy, then went up 6-3 with consecutive kills from Hill and an ace from Murphy. The Americans raised their advantage to 9-5 with two points around the technical timeout. Team USA extended its margin to 12-7 with kills from Bartsch-Hackley and Hill. Out of a China timeout, China committed a net violation to give the Americans a 13-7 lead. Out of the second technical timeout, China scored back-to-back points for the first time in the set to close to 16-12. Team USA responded with kills from Akinradewo and Dixon to move the advantage back to six, 18-12. The Americans extended their lead to 20-13 with a Bartsch-Hackley kill after a China service error. The Chinese scored three straight to close the gap to 20-16. Bartsch-Hackley ended the run with a kill and Murphy followed with a cross-court winner for a 22-16 American lead. Team USA reached match points with a Hill kill and Dixon ace at 24-17. The Americans ended the set at 25-18 on a Hill kill.