COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (June 18, 2019) – The U.S. Women’s National Team is heading back to the FIVB Volleyball Nations League Finals after it swept Russia 25-23, 25-17, 25-18 to start the final VNL preliminary round week Tuesday in Ekaterinburg, Russia.
The Americans, ranked third in the world, are now 10-3 overall with 30 points in the VNL. Based on today’s victory and Poland defeating Japan, Team USA has qualified for the VNL Final Six to be held July 3-7 in Nanjing, China. The U.S. and VNL Finals host China will finish the 15-match preliminary round no lower than sixth place regardless of the final two match outcomes. USA is one of five teams currently with 10-3 records along with Brazil, Italy, Turkey and China.
The U.S. challenges the Netherlands on June 19 and Thailand on June 20 with both match times at 7 a.m. ET. All Team USA matches in the VNL matches are being streamed on flovolleyball.tv.
Team USA used big comebacks in the opening two sets and cruised in the third set. The U.S. rallied from a 17-12 deficit in the opening set to take a 20-19 advantage, but then needed to score the final four points to win the set 25-23 after trailing 23-21. Trailing 17-14, Team USA went on an 11-0 run to close out the set 25-17. The Americans built a 20-11 margin in the third set with a key 7-0 run and closed it out at 25-18.
“A lot of things here are not close to perfect, so this is what I would call a beautiful imperfect match of volleyball,” U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly said. “Whether it was the bus showing up 20 minutes later than scheduled to leave for the match, or not having either of our designated liberos available for action. And things were not particularly clean or easy, and in fact they were really unclean and uneasy in the first set. But our team was incredibly impressive how they battled and ground out and we stole one at the end (in the first set). So that made our work a lot easier. The team has a lot to be proud of, working hard for 4 and one-third weeks, locking in berth to go compete in the Final Six in China.”
Outside hitter Michelle Bartsch-Hackley (Champaign, Illinois) led Team USA with 16 points including 13 kills on 30 attacks and three aces. Outside hitter Jordan Larson (Hooper, Nebraska) contributed 10 kills on 18 swings, one block and one ace for 12 points. Middle Chiaka Ogbogu (Coppell, Texas) reached double-digits with nine kills on 13 attacks and a block for 10 points.
“I thought we came out a little bit slow, but as the match went on we fought together really well and rode the wave nicely and finished strong,” Larson said. “I am really proud of our performance as the match went, we got better and better.”
Middle Haleigh Washington (Colorado Springs, Colorado) contributed four kills on 10 swings and four blocks for eight points. Opposite Jordan Thompson (Edina, Minnesota), who started the final two sets after subbing in the first set, notched six points with five kills and a block. Setter Lauren Carlini (Aurora, Illinois) charted three kills on six attacks and a block for four points. Opposite Annie Drews (Elkhart, Indiana) rounded out the scoring with a kill.
Carlini set the Americans to a 40 kill percent and .248 hitting efficiency (45-17-113). Team USA’s defense limited Russia to a 30 kill percent and .102 hitting efficiency (29-19-98).
“I am really happy about how our team played,” Carlini said. “Our first match in Russia, against Russia, it is not an easy environment to come into and play hard and win. I think overall, the match wasn’t perfect. As Karch would say, it was very imperfect volleyball, but we found a way to battle through it and work together and come out on top. I am really proud with how everyone communicated. It wasn’t the most orthodox of lineups and we had to change some things throughout the week. I thought we weathered the storm really well, especially in that first set. We battled back and continued to push. Great environment to play in, really cool to play in Russia against Russia. I am so proud of how this team battled.”
Unofficially, Bartsch-Hackley handled 28 of Team USA’s 55 receptions with a 57 positive reception percent to go with seven digs. Libero Kelsey Robinson (Manhattan Beach, California), suiting up as the libero for the first time in 2019, was 75 percent positive on 12 receptions and had a team-best 14 digs. Larson added seven digs and a 62 positive reception percent on 13 chances. Carlini had eight digs in the victory.
“Jordan did a nice job settling us down,” Kiraly said. “I think this was one of our best passing matches of the 13 VNL matches. It was a well-managed effort.”
The American offense staged a 45-29 advantage in kills while Team USA held slim margins in blocks (8-7) and aces (4-3). The U.S. had 19 errors in the match to Russia’s 18.
Qualified Teams for VNL Final Six and Upcoming Matches:
Brazil (10-3, 31 points): vs. Belgium (6/20), at Turkey (6/20)
Italy (10-3, 31 points): at Turkey (6/19), vs. Belgium (6/20)
USA (10-3, 30 points): vs. Netherlands (6/19), vs. Thailand (6/20)
Turkey (10-3, 29 points): vs. Italy (6/19), vs. Brazil (6/20)
China (10-3, 29 points): vs. Bulgaria (6/19), vs. Serbia (6/20)
Race for Final Spot in VNL Final Six
Poland (8-5, 24 points): vs. Dominican Republic (6/19), vs. Korea (6/20)
Japan (7-6, 21 points): vs. Korea (6/19), vs. Dominican Republic (6/20)
Belgium (7-6, 20 points): vs. Brazil (6/19), vs. Italy (6/20)
Dominican Republic (7-6, 18 points): vs. Poland (6/19), vs. Japan (6/20)
The U.S. started Bartsch-Hackley and Larson at outside hitter, Ogbogu and Washington at middle, Drews at opposite, Carlini at setter and Robinson at libero.
Team USA went up 3-1 in the opening set after consecutive kills from Bartsch-Hackley, but Russia quickly went in front at 4-3 with three unanswered points. The Americans reversed the lead at 5-4 with kills from Bartsch-Hackley and Drews. Russia answered with its own 4-0 run for an 8-5 advantage at the first technical timeout. Consecutive blocks by Washington and Larson closed the gap to 8-7. Russia raised its advantage to 12-8 with a 4-1 run leading into a USA timeout. The Americans trimmed the deficit to 13-12 with kills from Thompson and Bartsch-Hackley around a Russia attack error. Out of a timeout, Russia went on a 3-0 run to bring the hosts to a 16-12 advantage at the second technical timeout. Russia extended the margin to 17-12 with an American attack error. Team USA stopped the run with an Ogbogu kill and two Russia attack errors to cut the deficit to 17-15. The Americans leveled the set at 19-all with kills from Washington and Bartsch-Hackley followed by a Russia attack error. The U.S. went in front at 20-19 with another Russia attack error capping a 4-0 run. Russia reversed the lead at 21-20 then gained a two-point cushion at 23-21. Team USA squared the set at 23-all on a Larson kill. Thompson gave Team USA set points at 24-23 with a block, then the Americans won 25-23 as Russia hit long.
Russia scored three unanswered points to stake a 5-2 advantage early in the second set. Bartsch-Hackley downed back-to-back kills to cut the gap to 5-4. Russia regained a three-point cushion at 7-4. Consecutive Russia errors and followed by a Bartsch-Hackley kill and ace put the U.S. in front 8-7 at the first technical timeout. Russia regained the lead at 11-10 on an American attack error, but it short-lived as Larson scored a kill and ace to put Team USA back in the lead at 12-11. Russia went on a 4-0 run to take a 17-14 advantage prompting USA’s second timeout. Bartsch-Hackley pulled the Americans even at 17-all with two kills around an ace, then Larson slammed two kills around a Russia error for a sixth straight USA point and 20-17 advantage. Carlini took an overpass for a kill, Russia committed an error, Washington put up consecutive blocks and Carlini closed it out with a block at 25-17 capping a 11-0 USA run.
The U.S. gained the first two-point cushion of the third set at 5-3 with a Bartsch-Hackley kill and Russia error. The Americans extended their lead at 7-4 with a Larson kill and Russia error. Team USA raised its margin to 9-5 with an Ogbogu kill and Russia error. Bartsch-Hackley slammed a kill after a Russia service error to climb the American lead to 12-7. Russia closed the gap to 13-11 with three unanswered points. Washington hammered two slides around a Larson kill to raise the Team USA lead to 16-11 at the second technical timeout. The Americans advantage reached 20-11 with a Bartsch-Hackley ace and Carlini overpass kill and two Russia error capping a 7-0 American run. Russia knocked two points off the deficit at 20-13. Ogbogu scored a kill and block to lift the American lead to 23-14. Russia saved three match points before Team USA won 25-18 on an Ogbogu kill through the middle.