RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (Aug. 16, 2016) – Familiarity with an opponent can be a double-edged sword, but that didn’t stop the U.S. Olympic Women’s Volleyball Team, ranked No. 1 in the world, in defeating No. 5 Japan 25-16, 25-23, 25-22 in the quarterfinal round of the Rio Games on Tuesday afternoon at Maracanazinho Arena to advance to the semifinals for the fourth consecutive Olympic Games.
Team USA will challenge Serbia in the semifinals on Thursday at a time to be announced after the conclusion of the four quarterfinal matches. Serbia shutdown Russia 25-9, 25-22, 25-21 after the American victory over Japan.
Outside hitter Kim Hill (Portland, Oregon) scored a match-high 15 points with 12 kills on 29 attacks, two aces and a block. Outside hitter Jordan Larson (Hooper, Nebraska) contributed 14 points in the victory with 12 kills on 21 swings and two aces.
“It is huge,” Larson said of getting the victory in the nerve-racking knock-out quarterfinal round. “I think we did a nice job of just putting pressure on them. We knew they would defend us well. They came back there in the third set, but that is just what they do. We stayed patient and we stayed doing us, and that was the most important thing.”
The Americans are 18-2 in their last 20 Olympic Games matches dating back to Aug. 13, 2008. The only two losses have been to Brazil in the gold-medal matches of the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games.
The U.S. used a 6-1 run to establish an 11-7 advantage in the opening set and continued to roll to the 25-16 victory. In a close second set, Japan came back from a 22-19 deficit to tie the score at 22-all only to have the Americans finish out the set with a 25-23 victory as Larson scored three kills after the tie. Team USA went on a 16-7 run to take a 20-13 lead in the third set, but Japan scored seven straight points to level the set at 20-all. The Americans regrouped to score five of the last seven points, including two points from Karsta Lowe (Rancho Santa Fe, California) coming off the bench, to win 25-22.
“We don’t go into any match expecting to win,” U.S. Olympic Women’s Volleyball Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly said. “There are at least two benefits to that. One is that we know we have to really work hard, do not expect to win the next point. We know we have to go out and earn it rather than thinking it will happen on its own. And then when we do accomplish something that we do not expect, we can derive a lot more satisfaction and increase our overall level of satisfaction, not just in volleyball but in life.”
The U.S. has now won 13 consecutive matches against Japan during the current Olympic quadrennial as the two teams played their 224th total match against each other since 1983. Japan still holds a slim lead in the all-time series, 113-111.
“It is good and bad, obviously,” Larson said on competing against a team that Team USA is so familiar with. “We know a lot about them, they know a lot about us. But I think we did a good job at being consistent and being us.”
“We always enjoy playing Japan,” U.S. captain Christa Dietzen (Hopewell Township, Pennsylvania) said. “They always expose different weaknesses. I think we both do that. They are always a wonderful defensive team. I’m sure you’ve seen tonight it takes four, five, six swings to put the ball down against them. That’s always a great challenge for us. We always enjoy playing them.”
That long-standing tradition of competing against Japan has built a high degree of mutual respect from both the programs. Kiraly said the history of the Japanese program has helped push the Americans to be their best.
“First of all we have tremendous respect for the Japanese program,” U.S. Olympic Women’s Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly said. “Their players, their coaching staff, their long tradition – we won’t ever forget that it was in Tokyo, Japan, where indoor volleyball was first brought into the Olympic program and where it will return in four years. So that is all really special things that we cherish. We also love playing against a team like that that plays the best team defense in the world, they play with great fighting spirit and never gives up. That pushes us to our limit and ultimately we bring out the best in each other.”
American middle Foluke Akinradewo (Plantation, Florida) has been a steady offensive threat through the first six matches of the Olympic Games, and that was no different against Japan as she piled up 10 points with seven kills on 13 swings and a team-leading three blocks. Middle Rachael Adams (Cincinnati, Ohio) tacked on nine points, all kills coming on 16 attacks. Opposite Kelly Murphy (Wilmington, Illinois) added five points in the victory. Lowe, who was the opposite in the double-sub in all three sets, finished the match with three kills and an ace all in critical situations. Setter Alisha Glass (Leland, Michigan) rounded out the scoring with an ace.
The U.S. converted 48.5 percent of its attacks into points with a .412 hitting efficiency (47-7-97) as Glass, the tournament’s leading setter, was credited with 28 running sets on 65 total chances. Carli Lloyd (Bonsall, California), the setter in the double-sub in all three sets, registered five running sets on seven attempts. In contrast, the American defense held Japan to a 36.9 kill percent and a .243 hitting efficiency (38-13-103).
Even as a setter, Glass led the U.S. in digs with 11 and libero Kayla Banwarth (Dubuque, Iowa) added seven digs to go with six excellent receptions on 10 chances. Larson pocketed a team-best 10 excellent receptions on 25 chances and seven digs.
The Americans enjoyed advantages in every scoring category including 6-2 in aces and 5-2 in blocks. The U.S. managed a 47-38 margin in kills and held their total errors to 17 for the match to Japan’s 19.
“I think we have to continue to remind ourselves (to be patient) because it is frustrating playing against a great defensive team like Japan,” Dietzen said. “It takes four or five swings sometimes for us to put the ball down. So that’s a tribute to that program. In general, I thought we handled that pretty well. We were patient. We’re excited to be one step closer and we will wait this afternoon to find out who we face.”
Team USA advanced to the quarterfinals as Pool B’s top seed after finishing the preliminary round with a 5-0 record for the second consecutive Olympic Games. The U.S. has finished with the silver in each of the past two Olympics Games.
In the first quarterfinal match today, Netherlands defeated Korea 25-19, 25-14, 23-25, 25-20 to earn the first of four spots in Thursday’s semifinal matches. Later today Russia meets Serbia and host Brazil faces China in quarterfinal round matches that will complete the medal round field.
Team USA defeated Japan 3-0 earlier this year during the FIVB World Grand Prix preliminary round contested on June 18 at Long Beach, California. Entering the match with Japan, the Americans were undefeated in 12 matches against the Japanese in the 2016 Olympic quadrennial. The last time Japan had topped the U.S. was during the final match of the 2011 FIVB World Cup round robin event that prevented the Americans from winning their first-ever World Cup title.
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 71-9 record since that loss.
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. scored three unanswered to take a 4-1 advantage with kills from Hill and Akinradewo around a Japan error. Japan responded with four straight points to take a 6-5 lead. Adams and Murphy stopped the run with kills to reverse the lead to Team USA at 7-6. The Americans stretched the lead to 10-7 with two Adams kills around a Japan error. Larson served an ace for a fourth straight point at 11-7 prompting a Japan timeout. The American lead increased to 15-9 with kills from Hill and Akinradewo around a Japan error causing Japan to call its second timeout. Hill served an ace after a Japan fault o give the Americans an eight-point advantage at 18-10. Team USA’s lead reached nine points at 22-13 with a Larson kill and Japan error. The U.S. reached set points on an Adams kill and Japanese attack error at 24-15. Team USA capped the set at 25-16 with an Akinradewo block.
Team USA built a 3-1 lead in the second set with consecutive kills from Hill, Akinradewo and Larson. Japan came back to take the lead 7-6 with three unanswered points. Japan extended the advantage to 9-7 following an American attack error. Hill put up a block after a Japan error to square the set at 9-all. Adams and Murphy slammed back-to-back kills to push the Americans back in front 13-12. Team USA reached a two-point cushion at 16-14 with two Japan errors, but the Japanese quickly answered with three straight to take an 18-17 lead. Akinradewo put up consecutive blocks to stop the run and yield a Team USA 19-18 lead at a Japan timeout. Hill served an ace out of the timeout give the U.S. a two-point cushion at 20-18. Larson hammered a kill off the block following a Japan service error to inch the American lead to 22-19. Japan scored three straight to knot the score at 22-all prompting a USA timeout. Larson responded with two straight kills to give the Americans a 24-22 lead. Larson finished out the set with a kill at 25-23.
Japan established an early 4-2 lead in the third set. Team USA leveled the set at 6-all with kills from Larson and Hill, then went ahead 7-6 on a Japan attack into the antenna. Team USA inched the lead two at 9-7 with kills from Adams and Murphy. Hill gave the U.S. a 12-8 lead with two power slams following a Japan error. Out of a Japan timeout, Hill scored a third straight kill building the American lead to 13-8. Japan trimmed the gap to 14-11 with consecutive points. Glass served an ace after a Larson kill to extend the Team USA lead to 17-12. Out of a Japan timeout, Murphy put up a block to increase the American lead to 18-12. Larson served an ace after dinking over the Japan block to send the USA in front 20-13. Japan erased the entire deficit with a 7-0 run to level the set at 20-all. Lowe subbed into the match and promptly ended the run with a kill giving Team USA a 21-20 edge. Lowe gave the Americans a 23-21 lead with an ace off the net after a Hill kill. Hill slammed a kill to give USA set points at 24-21. Akinradewo ended the set at 25-22 with a slam after Japan saved one match point.