LINCOLN, Neb. (May 17, 2018) – The U.S. Women’s National Team changed things up a bit Thursday evening and bounced back from a tough five-set loss by defeating Italy 25-21, 25-18, 25-21 in FIVB Volleyball Nations League action in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The Americans, ranked second in the world, are now 2-1 in the inaugural 16-team Volleyball Nations League that is spread out over five consecutive preliminary round weeks. With its one domestic round completed, Team USA embarks on a four-week venture outside the United States starting next Tuesday in Toyota, Japan. The U.S. faces host Japan on May 22 at 6 a.m. ET, followed by the Netherlands on May 23 at 2:30 a.m. ET and Belgium on May 24 at 2:30 a.m. ET.
U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly deviated from the norm Thursday as he inserted Kelsey Robinson (Manhattan Beach, California) into the starting lineup, not as an outside hitter, but her first start with the national team at libero.
“We had been having some trouble in our service reception and we wanted to stabilize in that department,” Kiraly said. “I think we did pretty well at that. The Italians were doing a really nice job of bringing some smoke at us – hitting some really hard jump spin serves and we don’t see that a lot in our gym because we are so much jump floats. It took our passers a little while to adjust and eventually they controlled those hard serves in the way we needed to.”
Robinson helped stabilize the first touch and provided great defense to get the U.S. better offensive opportunities. She finished the match with 21 receptions and a 52 positive reception percent.
“It is so exciting to be on the court for me in any way that I can do that,” Robinson said. “To have that opportunity and do something that I do well – passing and play defense – It was definitely a challenge that Karch put me up to. I was stoked to be out there.”
Robinson didn’t have much of a chance to get nervous in playing libero for the first time in Red, White and Blue. She found out less than 12 hours earlier in the day that Kiraly was shifting her role on the team, at least for this match.
“I found out this morning. Nothing like a little surprise in the morning,” Robinson said. “I was excited. I knew it could be a possibility. I have played libero professionally for my club teams as they have asked me. It is something that I know that I have in my tool belt. But is always a surprise when I have to do it.”
Kiraly had a simple reason on putting Robinson on the court at libero.
“Because she is a world-class receiver,” Kiraly said. “She was one of the best passers at the Rio Olympics. Even though almost two years later, it is her first competition she has had a chance to play for us as she had some rest early in 2017 and then had a scheduling conflict and she couldn’t play for us in the World Grand Champions Cup.”
Kim Hill (Portland, Oregon) led the offense with nine kills on 21 swings, two blocks and two aces for 13 points. Middle Tori Dixon (Burnsville, Minnesota) totaled six kills on 15 attacks, two blocks and an ace for nine points. Opposite Kelly Murphy (Wilmington, Illinois) added seven kills on 17 swings and two blocks for nine points.
Home state hero Jordan Larson (Hooper, Nebraska) pocketed seven kills on 26 attacks and an ace for eight points. Both Larson and Robinson played collegiately at the University of Nebraska.
“We just knew that we needed to come out with a sense of urgency,” Larson said. “I think we did that. We were attacking from the beginning. I think we had a little bit of lull in the third set. We came out stronger. I am proud of our team bouncing back today after a disappointing loss.”
Foluke Akinradewo (Ft. Lauderdale, Florida) contributed seven points with six kills on 12 attacks and a block from her middle position. Carli Lloyd (Bonsall, California) chipped in two kills and a block from her setter position. Michelle Bartsch-Hackley (Champaign, Illinois) rounded out the scoring with two kills on three attacks as a sub in the second and third sets.
Team USA benefited from 23 errors from Italy and limited its own miscues to eight for the match. The Americans held an 8-5 blocking advantage and both teams had 39 kills. As a team, the U.S. converted 39 of its 96 attacks for a 40.6 kill percent with Lloyd at setter.
Italy had a trio of players have nine points as Anastasia Guerra and Marina Lubian had eight kills and an ace apiece while Camilla Mingardi added seven kills, one block and one ace.
The U.S. started Hill and Larson on the outside, Dixon and Akinradewo at middle, Murphy at opposite and Lloyd at setter. Robinson was making her first-ever start at libero for Team USA.
Now the U.S. begins three consecutive weeks in Asia followed by a trip to South America for its Volleyball Nations League preliminary round schedule. The Americans depart for Toyota, Japan on Friday where they will meet the host country, Netherlands and Belgium.
“We are going to play three more great teams in Japan, three more great challenges,” Kiraly said. “Japan plays a very a different style. That is one of the beautiful things about international women’s volleyball. From team to team, country to country there is an incredibly different style. We have to make adjustments from one match to the next.”
Team USA built an early 9-5 advantage in the opening set, then pushed the lead to 15-10. Italy sliced two points off its deficit at 15-12. Larson downed a back-row attack to extend the American margin to 19-14. Italy charged back to within two at 19-17. Lloyd slammed a kill out of system and Dixon followed with a block to give the U.S. set points at 24-20. The Americans closed out the set at 25-21.
Lloyd put up two straight blocks after a Murphy kill to yield a 5-2 USA lead early in the second set. Hill served an ace and Italy hit long to push the U.S. into the first technical timeout leading 8-4. Out of the break, Larson hit an off-speed winner for a third straight point at 9-4. Murphy hit through the Italy block and the visitors hit long prompting the Italians to call timeout trailing 13-7. Hill sliced an ace in front of the Italian defense to inch the lead up to 17-10. Akinradewo and Dixon hammered back-to-back kills and Italy was called for a back-row attack to extend the American lead to 20-11. Italy chopped off four points of its deficit at 21-16 as USA calls timeout. Dixon and Bartsch-Hackley found the court on attacks to put the USA at set points 24-17. Akinradewo powered down the final point of the set for a 25-18 win.
Dixon and Murphy scored the first two points of the third set, but Italy answered with five straight to grab a 5-2 advantage. Team USA tied the set at 5-all as Dixon put up a block after two Italian errors. Italy stopped the run with a kill and ace to build a two-point cushion at 7-5. Italy extended its lead to 12-8 after a block leading to a USA timeout. USA clawed back into a tie at 14-all after consecutive Italian attack errors. Dixon formed a monster block and served an ace on back-to-back points then Murphy hammered a kill to produce a USA an 18-15 lead. After Italy closed to 22-20, Dixon powered down a kill to get USA to 23-20. Larson served an ace at 24-20 to get USA’s first match point. Bartsch-Hackley had the winner at 25-21.