RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (Aug. 18, 2016) – The U.S. Olympic Women’s Volleyball Team’s bid to win its first-ever Olympic gold came up two points short in the semifinals on Thursday as it fell to Serbia 20-25, 25-17, 25-21, 16-25, 15-13 in Rio de Janeiro with one of its prime starters on the bench midway through the second set due to an injury.
Team USA, having been on the doorstep at gold with silver-medal finishes in the last two Olympic Games and in 1984, will regroup in an effort to win the bronze on Saturday at noon ET against the loser of the second semifinal between Netherlands and China. Aside from Olympic silver medal finishes in 1984, 2008 and 2012, Team USA earned bronze at the 1992 Olympic Games.
“First of all I want to congratulate Serbia on winning the match and the right to play for a gold medal here in Rio de Janeiro,” U.S. Olympic Women’s Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly said. “They played a great match. I also want to congratulate our team. We are incredibly proud of the way we battled through some real adversity today, falling down 2-1 and all that was going on and putting ourselves into a position where we could make that win possible. Then Serbia made some great plays down the stretch. They earned a victory that they certainly should be very proud of.”
“Congratulations to Serbia,” U.S. captain Christa Dietzen (Hopewell Township, Pennsylvania) said. “They played a phenomenal match. That’s the best I’ve seen them play defense. The seemed to have a solid game plan. They are a great team.”
U.S. middle Rachael Adams (Cincinnati, Ohio) scored a team-high 14 points with eight kills on 16 attacks and six blocks. Opposite Karsta Lowe (Rancho Santa Fe, California), who was a double-sub in the second and third sets before starting the final two sets, tallied 13 points, all kills on 21 swings. Outside hitter Jordan Larson (Hooper, Nebraska) contributed 12 points with nine kills on 26 attacks, two blocks and an ace.
The Americans are now 18-3 in their last 21 Olympic Games matches dating back to Aug. 13, 2008. Prior to today’s setback, the only two USA Olympic losses were to Brazil in the gold-medal matches of the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. Serbia, playing in only its third Olympic Games, will be playing in the gold-medal match for the first time on Saturday against the winner of Netherlands and China.
Team USA came back from a 16-14 deficit in the opening set, scoring three unanswered points breaking an 18-all tie en route to a 25-20 victory with seven of the final nine points. Middle Foluke Akinradewo (Plantation, Florida) had six points in the opening set, including three of the team’s six blocks. However, Akinradewo went down with an injury early in the second set and Serbia raced out to a 7-3 lead and never allowed the Americans back into the set, winning 25-17. Serbia continued the momentum into the third set with an early 8-1 lead and hung on for a 25-21 victory to go up 2-1 in sets.
“It took everybody,” Dietzen said on Team USA scrapping back into the match. “We’re two of the best teams in the world and we are going to expose all the weaknesses. I love the way that girls can come off the bench and be called to do any number of things. It was tough when Foluke went down. I think we were a little distracted there for a second just because we care so much for her. Obviously we wanted to turn this around for her and for everybody that’s a part of this program. We have a chance in the next 48 hours to do so.”
Team USA regained composure in the fourth set with some personnel changes and used a 10-4 scoring run to establish a 17-10 advantage in the fourth set and forced the tiebreaker with a 25-16 victory. In the tiebreaking fifth set, Serbia battled back from a 9-6 deficit to win 15-13.
“This one stings for sure,” Dietzen said. “But we had a great example set for us. Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross responded really well after their semifinal loss so we plan to take that same approach. Of course, yes, the next hour or so there is some grieving. But then we will see after 10 p.m. tonight who we will face in the bronze-medal match. We’re going after the bronze. That’s our next goal.”
U.S. libero Kayla Banwarth (Dubuque, Iowa) said both team fought to the bitter end.
“They came at us hard and we had to push back and forth a couple times,” Banwarth said. “They just had a little bit more at the end.”
“We left everything out there,” Larson said. “Foluke came down with something with her knee and I thought we did a good job rallying around each other. Serbia is a great team. We stuck with them. We are excited for another chance to medal, and that is what we came here to do. Again, congratulations to Serbia.”
USA defeated Serbia 25-17, 21-25, 25-18, 25-19 earlier in this Olympic Games pool play on Aug. 10. Serbia came away with a hard-fought five-set win at the 2015 FIVB World Cup in its last victory over the Americans.
Kelsey Robinson (Bartlett, Illinois), who started the fourth and fifth sets at outside hitter, pocketed eight points with six kills on 20 attacks and two blocks. Before coming out of the match early in the second set, Akinradewo had scored eight points with five kills on seven attacks and three blocks. Dietzen, who came in for the injured Akinradewo, scored five points in the match. Opposite Kelly Murphy (Wilmington, Delaware) totaled five points with four kills and a block. Kim Hill (Portland, Oregon), rounded out the scoring with two points as she started the first two sets.
“Every one of our players made a significant contribution to this challenge that we fought through,” Kiraly said. “They should hold their heads high and be proud. Karsta came in and did a really nice job. Christa came in and did really well. Right now this loss is deeply disappointing. It cuts deep, it is very painful. But that is okay. When you care that much, it is going to. We are going to process that some. We get some time to grieve. We signed up to do some difficult things. We are going to come back hard in 48 hours and fight for a bronze medal.”
Team USA converted 39.1 percent of its attacks into points with a .211 hitting efficiency (50-23-128) as setter Alisha Glass (Leland, Michigan) was credited with 39 running sets on 97 set attempts. Meanwhile, the American defense limited Serbia to a 37.2 kill percent and .140 hitting efficiency (48-30-129).
Banwarth was credited with a team-high nine digs and added six excellent receptions on 24 chances. Larson added a team-best nine excellent receptions on 28 chances and five digs. Robinson held seven excellent receptions in the loss.
Team USA out-blocked Serbia 17-16, but the Serb service gain netted an 8-2 ace advantage in keeping American offense out of sync especially early in the match. USA held a 50-48 margin in kills for an offensive advantage. Errors plagued both teams with the Americans committing 29 and Serbia 32.
“Serbia was doing a nice job of creating problems for us,” Kiraly said. “There was a whole slew of things that we were looking to solve. We look to be problem solvers on the court. We adjusted our lineup. We adjusted it again. We adjusted it again. I am proud of the way our team worked through a series of adjustments. But ultimately I got to congratulate Serbia. They made the plays needed to finish out the match.”
The Americans swept Japan 25-16, 25-23, 25-22 in the quarterfinal round on Tuesday to reach the semifinals. 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.
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 71-10 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.
After Serbia scored the opening point of the match, Murphy hit a winner and Akinradewo put up a block to give the Americans a 2-1 lead in the first set. Akinradewo and Larson downed back-to-back kills to increase Team USA’s lead to 4-2. After a Serbia service error, Larson put up a block to extend the U.S. lead to 11-8. However, Serbia came back with two blocks in a 3-0 run to level the score at 11-all prompting a Team USA timeout. Serbia went back into the lead at 13-12 after winning a long rally and extended its advantage to 14-12 on a 3-0 run. The U.S. promptly ended Serbia’s 6-1 run with an Adams block and Larson kill to tie the set at 14-all. Serbia answered with a kill and block to build its cushion to 16-14. Consecutive Serbia errors knotted the set at 16-all. Team USA went back in front at 19-18 with a Hill kill and Serbia error, then Akinradewo put up a monster block for a 20-18 advantage going into a Serbia timeout. Out of the timeout, Akinradewo hammered a slide to extend Team USA’s lead to 21-18. Akinradewo slammed a kill and followed with a block to give the U.S. a 23-19 lead. The U.S. finished the set at 25-20 with an Adams block, Team USA’s sixth of the set.
Serbia scored the first two points of the second set and built a 7-3 advantage with an ace prompting a Team USA timeout. Team US chipped two points off the deficit with an Adams block and Serbia attack error at 12-10. Serbia answered with three straight points raise its cushion to five at 15-10 prompting USA to call timeout. Consecutive Serbia errors cut the American deficit to 17-14, though it answered with four straight to raise its margin 21-14. Serbia scored an ace and put up a block to lift the advantage to 24-15. Team USA saved two set points before Serbia ended the set at 25-17.
Serbia scored the opening two points of the third set to continue momentum from the second set and raised its advantage to 8-1. Team USA ended the 6-0 run with a Serbia net fault and followed with a Robinson kill and Adams overpass slam to chip the lead to 8-4. Serbia responded with two straight to go back up 10-4. The Americans clawed to within 13-9 with a Murphy block after a Serbia service error. Larson served an ace off the net following a Serbia service error to trim the gap to 14-11. Serbia rebuilt its lead to 16-11 with a block. Adams slammed an overpass following a Serbia attack error to move the deficit back to three at 16-13. Serbia moved to a five-point cushion at 20-15 on two USA errors. Team USA cut the gap back to three at 21-18 with a Dietzen kill and Serbia back row attack error. Lowe slammed back-to-back kills to move Team USA within two at 22-20. However, Serbia took the next two points to get set points at 24-20. Serbia won the set 25-21 on a USA service error.
Team USA gained a 7-4 lead in the fourth set on consecutive kills from Larson followed by a block from Dietzen. Serbia closed to one at 7-6 with an ace. However, Team USA responded with a Larson block between two Serbia errors to push the American lead to 10-6. Out of a Serbia timeout, Dietzen scored a block for a fourth straight USA point at 11-6. Robinson put up a kill and block on consecutive plays to extend the American lead to 14-8. Team USA extended the lead to 17-10 with consecutive Serbia errors, but the gap was cut to 17-13 with a 3-0 Serbia run. Adams ended the run with a kill and Hill followed with an ace to lift the Americans in front 19-13. Lowe slammed a kill after a Serbia service error to inch the lead to 21-14. Lowe hammered back-to-back kills and Robinson picked up a block to raise the gap to 24-15. Team USA won the set 25-16 on a Serbia service error.
Lowe scored back-to-back back-row kills to give the Americans the first two-point edge at 5-3 after the teams traded points to start the fifth set. Adams put up a monster block at 6-4 preventing Serbia from tying the set. Lowe scored consecutive kills to inch the American lead to 9-6. Lowe scored another block at 11-8 that could have trimmed Serbia’s deficit to two. Serbia finally pulled back to within two at 11-10 prompting a Team USA timeout. Serbia tied the tiebreaker at 12-all on a USA error, then aced to go up 13-12. Serbia earned match point at 14-13 on a USA serving error, then ended the set at 15-13.