RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (Aug. 12, 2016) – The U.S. Olympic Women’s Volleyball Team, ranked No. 1 the world, was energized by its bench play Friday after as it defeated Italy 25-22, 25-22, 23-25, 25-20 during the Olympic Games Pool B being staged at Maracanazinho Arena in Rio de Janeiero, Brazil.
The Americans, now 4-0 in Pool B with 11 points and in first place, conclude pool play against the world’s No. 3 China on Sunday at 4:05 p.m. ET. Team USA, though already qualified for the Aug. 16 quarterfinals following its victory over Serbia on Wednesday, is aiming to grab the top seed from Pool B.
Earlier today China lost to Serbia 25-19, 25-19, 25-22 to fall to 2-2 with seven points. Serbia is now in second place with a 3-1 record and nine points. Serbia challenges fourth-place Netherlands on the final day of pool play prior to the USA’s match against China. A Team USA win will secure the top spot in the Pool B heading into the quarterfinals. However, an American loss to China means Sunday’s Serbia versus Netherlands winner could slip into the top seed despite having lost to the U.S. earlier this week based on tiebreakers.
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 in double figures scoring against Italy and another three players with at least six points. Middle Foluke Akinradewo (Plantation, Florida) chipped in a team-high 14 points with 13 kills on 22 attacks and a block. Outside hitter Kim Hill (Portland, Oregon) contributed 12 kills on 32 swings and a key ace for 13 points in the victory. Middle Rachael Adams (Cincinnati, Ohio) pocketed 10 points with nine kills on 13 swings and a block.
Team USA broke an 11-all tie in the opening set with a 7-3 scoring run to open up an 18-14 advantage en route to a 25-22 victory. The Americans used a 6-1 spurt to build a 13-7 lead in the second set, but Italy cut its deficit to one at 17-16. The U.S. used a late 4-0 scoring run to win the set 25-22. Italy charged out to a 16-8 lead in the third set, but had to withstand a furious American comeback to win the set 25-23 and send the match to a fourth set. With the score tied 20-all in the fourth set, Team USA scored the final five points of the set for the 25-20 victory.
The American bench provided the spark in the third and fourth sets as Karsta Lowe (Rancho Santa Fe, California) started the fourth set after serving as the double-sub opposite early on. She turned in 12 points, all kills on 21 swings. Outside hitter Kelsey Robinson (Bartlett, Illinois), who has been a back row specialist in the first three matches of the Olympic Games, came into the front row mid-way through the third set and quickly made a difference with eight kills on 17 attacks and a block.
“I take a lot of pride in being able to be a spark plug and energy maker,” Robinson said. “Me and Karsta and everyone in the box, we all have the built up energy and ready to go. Typically I just think if I can pass well and be in system, that is my job – maybe to turn a couple balls on defense. Alisha was getting me getting me good one-on-ones and made it easy to score.”
Outside Jordan Larson (Hooper, Nebraska) collected seven points with five kills, one block and one ace. Opposite Kelly Murphy (Wilmington, Illinois) tallied six points with five kills and a block. Setter Alisha Glass (Leland, Michigan) scored two kills and Courtney Thompson (Kent, Washington) rounded out the scoring with an ace in her serving specialist role.
The U.S. converted 43.7 percent of its attacks with a .278 hitting efficiency (66-24-151) as Glass was credited with 45 running sets on 96 set attempts and Carli Lloyd (Bonsall, California) added five running sets on 10 chances as the setter in the double-sub. In contrast, Team USA’s defense held Italy to a 34.6 kill percent and .197 hitting efficiency (44-19-127).
“Everybody had really nice contributions today,” U.S. Olympic Women’s Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly said. “We have a team that has a lot of people who have played a lot over the last two, three seasons. We have a great deal of trust in them to come in. Kelsey was really good off the bench, Karsta was good off the bench. One of Courtney’s job is to be ready to come in and serve some tough serves off the bench with the ace and the near ace. And once we took Kim out, she was ready to be a serving sub and she came in and served an ace. We needed every one of those points in the fourth set. Carli made some amazing plays when it was her chance. And Christa Dietzen, who did not get in the game but serves as our captain, provides some really valuable leadership during the timeouts and generally throughout the match. Even when people do not get in the match, they make an impact.”
Team USA libero Kayla Banwarth (Dubuque, Iowa) tallied a team-high 10 digs and had 11 excellent receptions on 15 chances. Larson was credited with 13 excellent receptions on 29 errorless chances.
Italy out-blocked the Americans 14-5, but Team USA’s offense clicked otherwise as it held a 66-44 kill advantage. The U.S. also held a slim 3-1 ace margin. Both teams committed errors at a high rate as the Americans had 30 and Italy 24.
Robinson, Glass and Adams all played on the Italian club team Conegliano this past winter that won the Italian Serie A1 championship that included three members of the Italian Olympic Team. And that provided some extra motivation for the team.
“I know them all pretty well,” Robinson said. “It is fun to play people you know, familiar faces.”
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 67-9 record since that loss. During that run, Team USA is 2-0 against Italy including a win in the 2015 FIVB World Grand Prix Finals round robin.
USA is 16-2 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.
The U.S. gained a 4-1 lead early in the opening set as Italy committed three straight errors. Italy answered with two straight points to close the gap to 4-3. Hill slammed a kill and Italy hit wide for its fourth error of the set at 6-3. Italy sliced its deficit to one at 9-8. Hill responded with two straight kills to lift the Americans in front 11-8, only to have Italy score three straight to level the score at 11-all. However, Italy committed consecutive errors to give the U.S. a 13-11 advantage. Akinradewo ended a long rally with an acrobatic looking kill to stretch the American lead to 15-12. Adams slammed a kill and Larson followed with a block to extend Team USA’s lead to 18-14. Italy cut the deficit in half at 22-20 prompting a USA timeout. Team USA ended the set at 25-22 with a Larson hammer off the block.
After Italy scored the first point of the second set, Team USA reversed the lead to its side at 3-1 with a Murphy kill between two Italian errors. The Americans stretched their lead to 5-2 with a Hill kill and Italian error. However, Italy closed to within one at 7-6. Team USA responded with kills from Adams and Larson to regain a three-point cushion at 9-6. The American upped their lead to 13-7 with consecutive kills from Adams, Murphy and Hill followed by a Larson kill leading into an Italian timeout. Out of the break Italy went on a 4-1 run to close the gap to 14-11. Italy continued to charge back and closed to one at 17-16. Team USA got its four-point cushion back at 22-18 with kills from Adams and Hill around a Murphy block. Out of an Italian timeout, the U.S. scored a fourth straight point at 23-18 with an Italian error. Italy shaved closed to 24-22 and saved a set point before the Americans won 25-22 on a service error.
Italy took a 4-1 advantage in the third set and increased its margin to 8-3 with four unanswered points. Italy continued the momentum taking a 12-5 lead into Team USA’s second timeout. Italy extended its advantage to 16-8 before Akinradewo and Robinson scored kills around an Italian error to cut the deficit to 16-11. Out of an Italian timeout, Robinson scored another kill to narrow the deficit to four at 16-12. After Italy scored back-to-back points, Akinradewo slammed a kill and Adams hit on overpass to move to within three 18-15. Italy scored back-to-back points again, but the USA answered with kills from Murphy and Lowe to put the score at 20-17. Lowe connected for consecutive kills to whittle the American deficit it 21-19. Team USA cut the deficit to 23-22 with a Robinson kill and Italy attack error, but the Americans couldn’t complete the comeback as Italy won 25-23.
After Italy scored the first point of the fourth set, Lowe answered with a kill and Robinson put up a block to put the Americans in front 2-1. Italy bounced back to take a 4-3 advantage and built a two-point cushion at 6-4. Team USA responded with an Akinradewo kill tied the set at 6-all with an Italian error. The Americans went back into the lead with a Robinson kill and consecutive Lowe winners at 11-9. Italy bounced back to tie the score again at 12-all. The Americans answered with a Robinson kill and Hill ace to move in front 14-12, only to have Italy score the next three points to take a 15-14 lead. Team USA went back into the lead with consecutive Italian errors at 17-16. The Americans gained a two-point cushion at 19-17 with a Lowe kill and Italian error. Out of an Italian timeout, Italy committed another error to extend the American lead to 20-17. However, Italy came back to score the next three points to close to level the set again at 20-20. Robinson and Lowe hammered back-to-back kills to yield a 22-20 margin for the Americans. Akinradewo put up a block out of Italy’s second timeout to lift the Americans in front 23-20. Thompson served an ace to give the Americans match points at 24-20 and Italy promptly had an attack error at 25-20.