LINCOLN, Neb. (Jan. 8, 2016) – The U.S. Women’s National Team moved one step closer to 2016 Olympic Games qualification by knocking off Puerto Rico 25-14, 24-26, 25-12, 25-14 Friday evening on day two of the NORCECA Olympic Qualification Tournament at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Neb.
The USA will face Dominican Republic (2-0) in the final match of the tournament with the winner earning NORCECA’s bid into the 2016 Olympic Games. The match will be aired lived on NBC Sports starting at 9 p.m. ET. Puerto Rico (0-2) finishes the tournament with an all-important match against Canada (0-2) on Saturday to stay alive in the last chance Olympic qualifiers in May available to the second- and third-place teams in the four-team round-robin standings.
The U.S. had seven players with at least five points in a balanced offensive match. Foluke Akinradewo (Plantation, Fla.) sparked the United States’ balanced attack with 15 points on 14 kills via 25 errorless swings and a block. Nicole Fawcett (Zanesfield, Ohio) chipped in 14 points on the strength of 11 kills on 24 attacks, two aces and a block. Karsta Lowe (Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.), who was a sub in all four sets, ended the night with eight kills on 11 errorless swings and two blocks for 10 points.
Team USA held a slim 8-7 lead in the opening set before taking a 16-9 advantage at the second technical timeout before easing into a 23-14 victory. The Americans overcame a 14-10 deficit in the second set to establish a 19-15 advantage on a 9-1 scoring run. However, Puerto Rico scored six of the final eight points for a 26-24 victory to even the match at one set each.
“I think the biggest message was not letting off the gas,” Akinradewo said following the second set loss. “We made big defensive adjustments. We had our pin blockers really focused on No. 11. She was really hurting us a lot with strong hands.”
After Puerto Rico built an early 2-0 lead in the third set, the U.S. jumped back in front 9-4. After Puerto Rico closed to 11-9, the Americans pushed open the lead to 18-10 on a 7-1 spurt and regained momentum with a 25-12 win. Team USA reached an early 7-3 lead in the fourth set as Akinradewo scored three quick kills and Puerto Rico was never able to recover in the 25-14 setback.
“I thought it was really good for us (to have Puerto Rico play strong),” U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly said. “We responded really well (after the second set). Puerto Rico is a good team and they fight hard. Our focus here has been going out and earn it and get it. We didn’t get it that time, but I think we responded really well in the third and fourth. That may have been the best thing to happen to us – having Puerto Rico come back and punch us around a little.”
Tori Dixon (Burnsville, Minn.) charted nine points with eight kills on 15 attacks and a block.
Alisha Glass (Leland, Mich.) had 28 running sets and Courtney Thompson (Kent, Wash.) added eight to push Team USA to a 49.2 kill percent and .427 hitting efficiency (61-8-124). Megan Easy (Boston, Mass.) and Kelsey Robinson (Bartlett, Ill.) scored six and five points, respectively. Kim Hill (Portland, Ore.) turned in three points and Glass rounded out the scoring with two points.
Puerto Rico committed 27 errors in the match to the USA’s 11. The USA managed a 9-3 block advantage to go with a slim 2-1 ace edge.
“We knew the competitive level we were going to have today. It was a matter of knowing what level we have to play,” Puerto Rico Head Coach Juan Carlos Nunez said. “It prepares us for tomorrow. We needed our hitters to be more effective. In the second set we had about 20 attacks that helped us out. In the last two sets we needed that offensive. We are hoping tomorrow that our offense can carry over.”
Karina Ocasio led Puerto Rico with a match-high 23 points, while Stephanie Enright recorded 11 points.
“We made less mistakes in the second set,” Puerto Rico captain Yarimar Rosa said. “USA has good blocks so we covered our hitters and were able to recover from that. That was the main difference in that set. We were confident and played at a good level. We have our lows and our highs, but we played better than yesterday. We took a set and that’s a confidence boost for tomorrow. It was good we played this game before tomorrow’s because when you play USA, you have to raise your level. That will help us for tomorrow.”
U.S. Women’s National Team Roster for NORCECA Olympic Qualification Tournament
# – Name (Position, Ht, Hometown, College)
1 – Alisha Glass (S, 6-0, Leland, Mich., Penn State University)
2 – Kayla Banwarth (L, 5-10, Dubuque, Iowa, University of Nebraska)
3 – Courtney Thompson (S, 5-8, Kent, Wash., University of Washington)
6 – Tori Dixon (MB, 6-3, Burnsville, Minn., University of Minnesota)
10 – Jordan Larson (OH, 6-2, Hooper, Neb., University of Nebraska)
11 – Megan Easy (OH, 6-3, Boston, Mass., Penn State University)
13 – Christa Dietzen (MB, 6-2, Hopewell Township, Pa., Penn State University)
14 – Nicole Fawcett (OPP, 6-4, Zanesfield, Ohio, Penn State University)
15 – Kim Hill (OH, 6-4, Portland, Ore., Pepperdine University)
16 – Foluke Akinradewo (MB, 6-3, Plantation, Fla., Stanford University)
17 – Natalie Hagglund (L, 5-9, Encinitas, Calif., University of Southern California)
22 – Rachael Adams (MB, 6-2, Cincinnati, Ohio, University of Texas)
23 – Kelsey Robinson (OH, 6-2, Bartlett, Ill., University of Nebraska)
25 – Karsta Lowe (OPP, 6-4, Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., UCLA)
Head Coach: Karch Kiraly
Assistant Coaches: Jamie Morrison and Tom Black
Technical Coordinator: Joe Trinsey
Team Manager: Denise Sheldon
Athletic Trainer: Jill Wosmek
Doctor: Dr. Andrew Gregory
Consultant Coach: David Hunt
Strength Coach: James Stitz
2016 NORCECA Olympic Qualification Tournament Schedule
Dominican Republic def. Puerto Rico 17‐25, 25‐13, 25‐23, 25‐23
USA def. Canada 25-18, 25-18, 25-15
Dominican Republic def. Canada 25-27, 25-16, 26-24, 25-21
USA def. Puerto Rico 25-14, 24-26, 25-12, 25-14
Canada vs. Puerto Rico, 5 p.m. CT
USA vs. Dominican Republic, 8 p.m. CT (live on NBC Sports)