COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (May 23, 2019) – Outside hitter Sarah Wilhite Parsons (Eden Prairie, Minnesota) scored 16 points in leading the U.S. Women’s National Team to a 25-20, 25-16, 25-21 victory over host Bulgaria on Thursday evening to conclude the opening week of the FIVB Volleyball Nations League.
The U.S., now 3-0 in the 2019 VNL, resumes action next Tuesday in Conegliano Venato, Italy, as it takes on Serbia on May 28, Italy on May 29 and Dominican Republic on May 30.
“I am really impressed with how this group worked and learning, and working together in all the various combinations we have put on the court so far,” U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly said. “We came here not having any expectations. We didn’t get a lot of time of training together, and that is not unusual. Almost every team had little time to train and prepare. A lot of teams are playing with some new faces and younger players that involve a lot of learning. We are really proud of the way this group battled and pursued every ball and every rally relentlessly. Lots of great effort, and that is one of the few things we can control.”
Wilhite Parsons powered down 11 kills on 26 attacks while adding three blocks and two aces. Middle Dana Rettke (Riverside, Illinois), who is still in college at University of Wisconsin, added 12 points with seven kills on 13 swings and a team-best five blocks.
Opposite Jordan Thompson (Edina, Minnesota), who has one year remaining at University of Cincinnati, totaled 11 points with nine kills on 25 attacks and two aces. Outside Mikaela Foecke (West Point, Iowa), who just graduated from Nebraska, contributed eight kills on 16 attacks, two blocks and an ace. She will not be available next week in Italy as she is getting married a week from Saturday. Middle Chiaka Ogbogu (Coppell, Texas) turned in six kill son 10 attacks and three blocks for nine points. Setter Jordyn Poulter (Aurora, Colorado) rounded out the scoring with a block.
Poulter set the Americans to a 42 kill percent and .323 hitting efficiency (39-9-93). Meanwhile, the American defense limited the Bulgarians to a 32 kill percent and .094 hitting efficiency (34-24-106).
Wilhite Parsons handled a team-leading 22 receptions with a 45 positive reception percent. Foecke was credited with a 41 positive reception percent on 17 chances. Libero Megan Courtney (Dayton, Ohio) charted 13 receptions and a team-leading 62 positive reception percent.
“I thought our match with Bulgaria went really well,” Courtney said. “We went through a little adversity because we didn’t play our best match of volleyball. But with a young group, I thought we did a really good job of turning it around when we needed to, stopping their runs when we needed to. This whole week has been really fun to get to know the girls on a different level other than being in the gym. They are super great, super young, they are quirky and funny. So it has been really cool to see everybody and to get to know everybody.”
Team USA’s defense at the net frustrated Bulgaria as the Americans held a 14-3 margin in blocks. Further, the Americans enjoyed advantages of 41-35 in kills and 5-4 in aces.
“Next week we face three very quality opponents next week in Serbia, Italy and Dominican Republic,” Kiraly said. “We will certainly be tested there a lot. Unfortunately, we will not be able to take Mikaela Foecke with us. We were certainly excited to do that, but she has bigger and more important things to do as she is getting married a week from Saturday.”
The U.S. broke a 3-all tie in the opening set with a 6-1 run to go up 9-4. Bulgaria leveled the score at 11-all on a 7-2 run. Team USA scored four unanswered points on back-to-back Bulgarian errors, a Wilhite Parsons ace and Rettke block put the Americans in front 18-14. Foecke served an ace after a Bulgaria error to lift the U.S. advantage to 23-18, only to Bulgaria to claw back to within three at 23-20. The U.S. closed out the set with a kill and block from Thompson at 25-20.
Team USA went up 9-4 early in set two, breaking a 4-all with two kills from Rettke, two Thompson aces and Foecke kill. Bulgaria sliced three points off the deficit to close to 10-7. Rettke answered with consecutive blocks to go up 12-7. After Bulgaria pulled to within 13-10, Foecke hammered back-to-back kills to regain a five-point cushion at 15-10. Bulgaria rallied to within one at 17-16 with four straight points. Thompson and Wilhite Parsons answered with back-to-back kills and Bulgaria committed three consecutive errors to put USA up 22-16. Foecke scored a sixth straight USA point on a back-row attack, then Rettke gave USA set point at 24-16 with a block. Bulgaria committed an error on set point as USA closed the set on an 8-0 run.
The traded points early in the third set until the U.S. rattled three straight points to go up 11-8 with kills from Ogbogu and Wilhite Parsons around a Bulgaria error. Bulgaria squared the set at 16-all with back-to-back points out of the second technical timeout. Wilhite Parsons answered with a kill and block to push the Americans in front 18-16. Rettke pounded a kill between two Bulgaria errors to put the U.S. up 21-17. Foecke ended the match with a block at 25-21.
The U.S. started Poulter at setter, Wilhite Parsons and Foecke at outside hitter, Thompson at opposite, Rettke and Ogbogu at middle. Courtney was the libero. Mary Lake (Palm Springs, California), who is a rising senior at BYU, was a sub in the first and third sets making her international debut.
The VNL, a 16-country league for both genders, includes 15 pool play matches for each country spread over five consecutive weeks with four pods of four teams competing in round-robin action every week. The top five teams from the preliminary round will compete in the VNL Final Six along with host China from July 3-7 with the winner receiving $1 million.
As part of the VNL, Team USA will then host No. 9 Korea on June 4, No. 13 Germany on June 5 and No. 4 Brazil on June 6 in Lincoln, Nebraska. All three matches in Lincoln will be played at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
U.S. Women’s National Team Roster for FIVB Volleyball Nations League Week #1 in Bulgaria
# – Player (Position, Height, College, Hometown)
1 – Micha Hancock (S, 5-11, Penn State, Edmond, Oklahoma)
2 – Jordyn Poulter (S, 6-2, Illinois, Aurora, Colorado)
9 – Madi Kingdon Rishel (OH, 6-1, Arizona, Phoenix, Arizona)
11 – Annie Drews (OPP, 6-4, Purdue, Elkhart, Indiana)
12 – Jordan Thompson (OPP, 6-4, Cincinnati, Edina, Minnesota)
13 – Sarah Wilhite Parsons (OH, 6-2, Minnesota, Eden Prairie, Minnesota)
17 – Megan Courtney (L, 6-1, Penn State, Dayton, Ohio)
18 – Mikaela Foecke (OH, 6-3, Nebraska, West Point, Iowa)
19 – Hannah Tapp (M, 6-3, Minnesota, Stewartville, Minnesota)
20 – Dana Rettke (M, 6-8, Wisconsin, Riverside, Illinois)
21 – Simone Lee (OH, 6-1, Penn State, Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin)
22 – Haleigh Washington (M, 6-3, Penn State, Colorado Springs, Colorado)
24 – Chiaka Ogbogu (M, 6-2, Texas, Coppell, Texas)
27 – Mary Lake (L, 5-7, BYU, Palm Springs, California)
Head Coach: Karch Kiraly
Assistant Coaches: Luka Slabe, Tama Miyashiro, Erin Virtue
Technical Coordinator: Jeff Liu
Athletic Trainer: Aimee Miyazawa
Team Manager: Matjaz Hafner
FIVB Volleyball Nations League Schedule – U.S. Women’s National Team (All Times ET)
May 21: USA def. Belgium 25-23, 25-8, 25-22
May 22: USA def. Japan 25-21, 24-26, 25-21, 25-20
May 23: USA def. Bulgaria 25-20, 25-16, 25-21