COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Sept. 29, 2018) – The U.S. Women’s National Team, ranked second in the world, opened the defense of its FIVB World Championship title won in 2014 by defeating Azerbaijan 29-27, 25-21, 25-21 on Saturday afternoon in Kobe, Japan.
- Key Stat: U.S. had balanced offense with four players in double-figure scoring
- Key Moment: U.S. came back from a 24-21 deficit in the opening set to win, propelling the reigning world champions to a 3-0 sweep
- Records: USA (1-0), Azerbaijan (0-1)
- World Rankings: USA No. 2, Azerbaijan No. 24
- 2018 Season Record: 27-4
- Up Next: USA vs. Trinidad & Tobago (0-1), 12:40 a.m. ET on Sunday
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Azerbaijan scored four unanswered points to take a 19-15 lead in the opening set and reached set point at 24-21. However, the Americans rallied to tie the set, then saved a total of five set points before winning 29-27 on its second set point opportunity. Team USA jumped to an 8-3 lead in the second set, but Azerbaijan battled back to within two at 13-11 before the Americans brought back control en route to winning 25-21. The U.S. recovered from a 10-7 deficit in the third set with a 4-0 run to take an 11-10, then used a 6-2 scoring run to close out the match with a 25-21 victory.
Team USA outside hitter duo of Kim Hill (Portland, Oregon) and Jordan Larson (Hooper, Nebraska) paced the American offense. Hill had 11 kills on 29 attacks and a block for a team-leading 12 points, while Larson contributed 10 kills on 27 attacks and a block for 11 points. Opposite Kelly Murphy (Wilmington, Illinois) added 11 points with eight kills on 20 attacks, two aces and a block. Middle Foluke Akinradewo (Fort Lauderdale, Florida) pocketed 10 points with eight kills on 15 swings, one block and one ace.
“I thought they came out strong in the first set and tested us,” Larson said. “I am proud of our team for handling the adversity. It was a great start for us in our pool and hopefully we can continue that through tomorrow.”
“One thing is we didn’t know the players well on the Azerbaijan side,” Akinradewo said. “They were a very strong, tall and aggressive team. It took a little time for us to settle down.”
Karsta Lowe (Rancho Santa Fe, California), the double-sub at opposite in all three sets, turned in seven points with six kills on nine attacks and a block. Setter Carli Lloyd (Bonsall, California) provided two kills on as many attacks and two blocks for four points. Middle Tori Dixon (Burnsville, Minnesota) charted three kills on seven swings and a block for four points. Micha Hancock (Edmond, Oklahoma), the setter in the double-sub in all three sets, pocketed two kills on two attempts. Sarah Wilhite Parsons (Eden Prairie, Minnesota), a serving sub in all three sets, tallied two aces on six total serves.
Libero Kelsey Robinson (Manhattan Beach, California) was credited with a 67 positive reception percent on 15 chances and added 12 digs based on unofficial stats. Larson handled 24 receptions with a 42 positive percent and Hill added 23 receptions with a 39 positive percent. Defensively, Lloyd had a team-leading 15 digs and Larson had 12 digs. Murphy tacked on 10 digs.
Lloyd handled 80 sets and helped the Americans to a 44 kill percent and a .316 hitting efficiency (50-14-114). The American defense limited Azerbaijan to a 39 kill percent for the match.
The U.S. held an 8-5 block advantage to offset Azerbaijan’s slim 6-5 margin in aces. The Americans held a 50-39 advantage in kills and a 36-25 edge in digs.
Azerbaijan’s Polina Rahimova led all scorers with 23 points, while Jana Kulan added 13 points in the loss.
The U.S. started Larson and Hill at outside hitter, Akinradewo and Dixon at middle, Murphy at opposite and Lloyd at setter, Robinson at libero.
Azerbaijan was 3-0 against the United States in the all-time series, including a win in the 2006 World Championship.
Team USA’s second match will be against another team it will have limited knowledge about before facing them. However, Wilhite was on the Pan American Cup squad the defeated Trinidad & Tobago earlier this summer.
“We have a limited amount of knowledge on Trinidad & Tobago,” Akinradewo said. “Our goal is always to focus on our side. So what we can do to improve each and every match, one point at a time. It is a good time to improve tomorrow.”
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Azerbaijan took the first two-point cushion of the opening set at 4-2 with three unanswered points, then raised the gap to 6-3 on an ace. Akinradewo downed two kills around a Azerbaijan attack into the net to level the set. Team USA took the lead back at 7-6 on a Larson kill capping a 4-0 run. Larson rolled a kill over the block and Akinradewo served an ace to extend the Americans’ lead to 9-7. However, Azerbaijan squared the set at 9-all. Murphy drilled a kill after an Azerbaijan error to put the U.S. up 11-9, but it was short-lived as Azerbaijan tied the set at 11-all. Azerbaijan grabbed the lead back at 15-13 with three straight points. Team USA leveled the set at 15-all with an Akinradewo kill and Azerbaijan error. Azerbaijan scored four unanswered points, including two aces, to gain a 19-15 cushion. Lowe scored back-to-back kills to cut the deficit in half at 19-17. Out of an Azerbaijan timeout, Lowe nailed her third straight kill to close the gap to 19-18. Azerbaijan reached set point at 24-21 on a block. Team USA saved two set points on an Azerbaijan service error and Wilhite ace at 24-23. The Americans tied the set at 24-all with Wilhite’s second straight ace. Akinradewo put up a block and Lloyd powered down an overpass kill to go up 27-26. Team USA won the match on a Larson kill and Dixon block at 29-27.
Team USA opened set two with a 2-0 lead on a Larson kill and Lloyd ace. After an Azerbaijan service error, Murphy hit a line shot to extend the American lead to 4-1. The U.S. stretched its lead to 8-3 with a Murphy ace and Hill kill after an Azerbaijan service error. The U.S. built its lead to 11-5 with an Akinradewo kill and Lloyd block. Azerbaijan cut the deficit to 13-11 with four unanswered points. The U.S. ended the streak with back-to-back points on a Hill kill after an Azerbaijan error to go up 15-11. Team USA increased its lead to 18-12 with a Hill kill and block followed by an Azerbaijan ace. The American lead was cut to 18-14 on consecutive Azerbaijan points. The U.S. had its lead sliced to 23-20 on an Azerbaijan ace. Akinradewo ended the set with a kill at 25-21.
Azerbaijan reached a two-point cushion early in the third set at 4-2. Murphy put up a block and followed with an ace to knot the set at 4-all. Team USA went in front 6-5 with a Hill kill and Azerbaijan error. Azerbaijan answered with three consecutive points to go up 8-6 at the first technical timeout, then extended the margin to 10-7 on a USA attack error. Team USA squared the set at 10-all with a Lloyd kill followed by consecutive Dixon blocks prompting an Azerbaijan timeout. Out of the break, Larson pounded a kill for a fourth straight point to give the Americans an 11-10 advantage. The U.S. broke a string of side outs with consecutive kills from Murphy and Hill to raise the American lead to 19-17. Azerbaijan answered with back-to-back points to level the set at 19-all. Hill and Murphy slammed back-to-back kills to again put the U.S. in front by two at 21-19. The U.S. extended its lead to 23-20 with a Murphy kill and Lloyd block. The U.S. reached match-point at 24-21 with an Azerbaijan attack error, the Akinradewo powered down the winner at 25-21.