LONG BEACH, California (June 15, 2016) – The U.S. Women’s National Team, ranked No. 1 in the world, continues to fine tune its roster and systems heading into the second FIVB World Grand Prix preliminary round weekend in Long Beach, California.
Team USA, ranked No. 1 in the world by the FIVB, hosts No. 11 Germany on June 17 at 7:10 p.m., followed by No. 5 Japan on June 18 at 7:10 p.m. and No. 10 Turkey on June 19 at 5:10 p.m. All times are Pacific Time.
“Every one of the times that we are together, especially with a uniform on – including when it was USA against USA in Red vs. Blue matches that started five weeks ago as well as World Grand Prix matches – each time we put a uniform on, we consider it a gold-medal match,” U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly said. “It doesn’t matter who is across the net as it is an opportunity to get better and learn. We still have chances to improve with a big season of 2016 upon us.”
All three USA matches this weekend can be viewed live online on NBC Sports Live Extra (http://www.nbcsports.com/live-extra), while all six matches can be viewed live on FIVB’s YouTube Channel. NBC Sports Network will also air the three USA matches on its television platform on a taped-delay basis.
U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly and his staff have chosen three middles, three outside hitters, three setters, three opposites and two liberos to represent Team USA as the defending FIVB World Grand Prix champions.
The USA coaching staff made one change from last weekend, adding Fawcett in place of middle Alexis Crimes (Rancho Cucamonga, California). By FIVB rules, the U.S. can change its roster again next week heading into the third preliminary weekend as well as the Grand Prix Finals being held July 6-10 in Bangkok, Thailand.
Team USA is excited to be back playing on home soil in front of crowds chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A.”
“We are excited to play at home, and take advantage of our home court and put the other teams in hard situations,” Murphy said.
Kiraly says this weekend’s matches have importance on the longer term goal with the Olympic Games now at 50 days out.
“Every point we play we have to empty the tank on, both in terms of World Grand Prix playing and in terms of playing our style of play and system,” Kiraly said. “But also in terms of helping us figure out the difficult process toward 12 players who will go to Rio.”
Murphy feels that the added pressure of performing well to gain one of the coveted 12 Olympic spots on the U.S. roster can be a positive within all the challenges.
“You definitely try not to think about it, and play as relaxed and free as possible,” Murphy said. “But I also think it sort of gives a little extra push to play even harder, and I think we have done a really good job at using it as a positive thing and using it to push us. It is exciting, and nerve-racking and a lot of things all at the same time.”
The U.S. enters the second World Grand Prix preliminary round weekend with a 2-1 record and six standings points. The Americans swept Germany and Thailand last weekend in Ningbo, China, before falling to host and No. 2 China in four sets. In the process, China snapped Team USA’s 12-match win streak dating back to the 2015 FIVB World Cup.
The World Grand Prix is the premier annual international women’s volleyball tournament. This year it serves as the last major event for teams qualified to the 2016 Olympic Games to fine tune their systems. Both USA and Japan are among the 12 teams which will participate at the Rio Games in August.
The top five teams in the preliminary round plus host Thailand will make up the six-team Final Round field. The Americans rank fourth in the 12-team World Grand Prix Group 1 behind China, Brazil and Russia who are all undefeated after the first three matches of the nine-match preliminary round. Turkey and Japan are ranked seventh and eighth, respectively.
Last week Team USA started 12 different players from its 14-player roster in at least one match last weekend in China. Opposite Kelly Murphy (Wilmington, Illinois) is the leading American scorer with 27 points and ranking 28th in scoring. She also ranks seventh in spiking with a 40.74 kill percent (22-54). Foluke Akinradewo (Plantation, Florida) has 24 points through the first weekend. Christa Dietzen (Hopewell Township, Pennsylvania) is the tournament’s second-best blocker with 1.00 per set. Carli Lloyd (Bonsall, California) is the tournament’s leading setter with 6.90 running sets average on 187 total set attempts. Jordan Larson (Hooper, Nebraska) ranks ninth in best receiver with a 31.25 efficiency percent.
“It felt really good to get out and compete,” said Murphy, who missed some competitions in 2015 after being the team’s leading scorer in both 2013 and 2014, her first two seasons with Team USA. “We have been training for a long time and working really hard. To get back out there with the team and see what we have been working and what we still need to work on was a lot of fun. I think we did a pretty good job and learned a lot.”
According to Murphy, the team continuously works on its passing and serving game as a means to get its system in high gear.
“We have been working on a few things, just always working on our passing and serving is really important for us,” Murphy said. “We talk about if we can do those things really well, then we can control most of the matches.”