COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (July 3, 2019) – The U.S. Women’s National Team took a step closer to defending its FIVB Volleyball Nations League title by rallying to defeat Poland 21-25, 25-16, 25-15, 26-24 on Wednesday to open the Finals Round pool play in Nanjing, China.

Team USA will have Thursday off before facing Brazil on Friday at 3 a.m. ET in its three-team pool. If Brazil wins its opening Pool B match versus Poland on Thursday, both USA and Brazil advance to the VNL semifinals that begin on Saturday followed by the medal round on July 7. All USA matches in the VNL can be streamed through Later today China hosts Turkey in Pool A while Italy is idle in that group.

Poland rallied from an 18-16 deficit in the opening set by putting together a 6-1 run to take a 22-19 advantage en route to the 25-21 victory. Team USA built an early 7-3 advantage in the second set, and with four aces, sustained the advantage to win 25-16 and even the match at 1-1. Trailing 6-5 in the third set, the Americans used a 5-1 scoring run to stake a 10-7 lead and Team USA continued that momentum to win 25-15. The U.S. charged out to a 10-4 lead in the fourth set, but Poland rallied to gain set point at 24-23 with four unanswered points. However, the Americans responded with an ace and kill to end the set at 26-24.

Opposite Annie Drews (Elkhart, Indiana) led Team USA with 23 points, including 21 kills on 41 attacks, one block and one ace. Outside hitter Kelsey Robinson (Manhattan Beach, California) charted 15 kills on 30 attacks, two aces and two blocks for 19 points. Outside hitter Michelle Bartsch-Hackley (Champaign, Illinois) added nine kills on 26 attacks and a team-high four aces for 13 points.

Drews said the team committed to being more aggressive on the serve after losing the opening set.

“We talked about service pressure,” Drews said before the team head back on the court for set two. “If we are going to error, let’s make some aggressive errors. Let’s really push them to be out of system, put their setter on the move or make their non-setters set. I think we did a better job of that as the match went on. We still were pretty high error in service, but I thought we were better at putting pressure on and getting them out of system.”

Middle Haleigh Washington (Colorado Springs, Colorado) scored a match-high seven blocks to go with four kills on eight swings for 11 points. Middle Chiaka Ogbogu (Coppell, Texas) charted five kills on nine attacks and four blocks for nine points. Setter Lauren Carlini (Aurora, Illinois) rounded out the scoring with one kill and one block for two points.

According to unofficial stats, Team USA converted 47 percent of its attacks with Carlini setting the Americans to a .325 hitting efficiency (55-17-117). The U.S. held Poland to a 36 kill percent and .157 hitting efficiency (43-24-121).

U.S. libero Megan Courtney (Dayton, Ohio) handled 25 receptions with a 58 positive reception percent. She also provided 11 digs on defense. Bartsch-Hackley added 10 digs and a team-high 27 receptions with a 44 positive reception percent. Robinson was credited with a 56 positive reception percent on 18 chances to go with seven digs. Carlini pocketed 12 digs in the victory from her setter position.

The U.S. out-served Poland 7-2 in aces, though it had 12 service errors. The Americans held a 15-13 margin in blocks and totaled a 55-43 advantage in kills.

Drews felt the crowd helped provide Team USA an extra lift in the Finals Round opener.

“It definitely feels like a Finals Week atmosphere,” Drews said. “There are some legs of VNL and some matches, that are a little quieter. I thought the atmosphere here was really great tonight and provided us some energy to feed off.”

The U.S. started Bartsch-Hackley and Robinson at outside hitter, Ogbogu and Washington at middle, Drews at opposite and Carlini at setter. Courtney returned to the starting lineup at libero.

The U.S. scored the first two points of the opening set with a Drews kill and Robinson block. For the second time early in the first set, Drews downed a kill and Robinson followed with a block at 5-2. Poland rattled off three unanswered points to tie the set at 7-all. Team USA gained a two-point edge at 10-8 with kills from Ogbogu and Robinson. Poland grabbed its first lead at 13-12 with three consecutive points. The Americans answered with a Drews kill and Washington block to give Team USA a 14-13 lead. Consecutive Polish errors extended the American advantage to 18-16. Poland took the lead back at 19-18 with three points after a timeout, then raised its advantage to 21-19 leading to a Team USA timeout. Out of the break, Poland scored a third straight point as part of a 6-1 run to inch its lead to 22-19. Poland reached set points at 24-20 after a USA service error and attack error. Poland won the set at 25-21.

Team USA gained a 2-0 lead early in the second set with a Washington kill after a Poland error. The Americans raised their lead to 7-3 with consecutive Bartsch-Hackley aces after a Drews kill. Poland cut the gap in half at 7-5 with back-to-back points. Robinson and Drews connected for consecutive kills and Poland hit wide to lift the U.S. lead to 10-5. The U.S. jumped its lead to 13-7 with a Bartsch-Hackley kill and Washington block. Poland trimmed the deficit to 13-10 with three consecutive points. Drews hammered consecutive kills to put Team USA into the second technical timeout leading 16-11. The Americans extended their advantage to 18-12 with a Drews kill and Ogbogu overpass slam. Poland whittled the gap to 18-14 with back-to-back points. The U.S. answered with a Drews block after a Poland error to go up 20-14. Poland called its second timeout trailing 22-15 after a Robinson block and Drews ace. Washington gave USA set points at 24-16 with an overpass kill after a Poland error, then Robinson served the winner at 25-16.

The U.S. broke a string of 12 sideouts to start set three and gained its first lead at 7-6 with a Carlini kill and Bartsch-Hackley block. The Americans raised their lead to 10-7 with a Bartsch-Hackley kill, Poland error and Ogbogu block prompting a Poland timeout. Drews and Robinson connected for consecutive kills to extend the U.S. lead to 12-8. The Americans upped their margin to 16-10 with kills from Robinson and Bartsch-Hackley followed by a Washington block heading into the second technical timeout. Bartsch-Hackley and Drews downed kills and Poland hit long to push the American lead to 20-12. Drews, Robinson and Ogbogu pounded consecutive kills to shift the USA lead to set points at 24-14. Drews slammed an overpass kill to give Team USA a 25-15 victory.

Team USA started set four with a Washington block, Robinson ace and Drews kill to go up 3-0. Poland served an ace after a USA service error to cut the gap to 3-2. The U.S. raised its advantage to 6-3 with a Drews kill and Ogbogu block. The Americans reached the first technical timeout leading 8-4 on a Robinson kill after a Poland service error. Out of the break, Ogbogu hammered a kill and Bartsch-Hackley served an ace for a fourth straight American point at 10-4. Poland chipped three points off the deficit at 10-7. Team USA answered with an Ogbogu block and Robinson tip for a 12-7 American lead. Poland moved to within three at 12-9 with consecutive points. The U.S. inched its lead to 18-14 with a Drews kill and Ogbogu block. Poland again closed to within two at 19-17 following a block. Poland scored four straight points to take set point at 24-23. Team USA answered with a Poland service error and Bartsch-Hackley ace to give the Americans a 25-24 lead, then Robinson slammed a kill off the block for a 26-24 victory.