RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (Aug. 5, 2016) – The U.S. Olympic Women’s Indoor Volleyball Team is in familiar territory on the eve of opening the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. The Americans open play against their NORCECA zone rival Puerto Rico on Saturday at 4:05 p.m. ET.
Team USA entered the 2012 Olympic Games with the world’s number-one ranking, which is no different four years later in 2016. However, the Americans finished with their second straight Olympic Games silver medal after losing to Brazil in the title match in London.
In 2016, the U.S. wants to be different than years past. They want to finish on the top step of the Olympic podium for the first time in 52 years since volleyball was put on the Olympic schedule. The Americans have three silver medals (1984, 2008 and 2012) and one bronze medal (1992) at the Olympics – but no gold. 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.
Team USA opens Pool B with Puerto Rico, ranked 17th in the world, before playing Netherlands on Aug. 8, Serbia on Aug. 10 and Italy on Aug. 12 all at 2 p.m. ET. The Americans conclude the group phase on Aug. 14 against No. 3 China at 4:05 p.m. ET.
“Once the Olympic groups were announced, we saw that we had a very strong group, and I think that is the best possible thing to happen for each of us in this group,” U.S. Olympic Women’s Volleyball Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly said. “We will get to face a lot of fierce battles and that is what we have been preparing for the last four years. We are extremely excited to be here.”
Team USA brings a roster that may not look to have the experience it has had in the past, but they have been battled tested throughout the quad. With four Olympic veterans and eight newcomers, Kiraly nice the composition of the team.
“We have a nice blend of experience in people like our captain Christa, who is competing in her second Olympics, along with Foluke Akinradewo, Jordan Larson and Courtney Thompson,” Kiraly said. “We have eight players who have not competed in the Olympics previously. However, those eight players since 2013 have had many chances to battle and compete and at the world level such as World Grand Prix, World Championship and World Cup. We have a group that might not look that experienced on paper, but they have logged lots of matches. We have counted them up, and we have probably played over 150 times with a USA uniform these last four years. Nobody has played all of those matches, but all the players here have played the bulk of those matches. That has been great preparation for us.”
On the other hand, Puerto Rico has already made history by just being in Rio and making its first Olympic Games appearance. The squad qualified for the Olympics after winning the FIVB World Olympic Qualification Tournament in May, an event they hosted. And now the Puerto Ricans understand it will be a huge task taking the next step on the Olympic court for the first time.
“For Puerto Rico, it is the first time to qualify for the Olympic Games,” Puerto Rico Head Coach Juan Carlos Nunez said. “Now for the pool, every match will be strong games.”
Although this is the first Olympic meeting between the two teams, they are very familiar with each other over the years. Since 1983, the team battled 39 times with the U.S. winning 36 times and all three losses were in events where Team USA did not send its top squad. The Americans defeated Puerto Rico in four sets during the 2016 NORCECA Women’s Olympic Qualification Tournament, the event in which the U.S. qualified for the Olympics. One of Puerto Rico’s three victories over the U.S. came less than a month ago, a four-set win during the Pan American Cup semifinals in which the American roster was primarily collegiate athletes or those who just graduated within the last two years.
The U.S. enters the Olympic Games having won the silver medal at the 2016 FIVB World Grand Prix in Thailand on July 10. The Americans faced Brazil in the finals and dropped a heart-breaking five set match. Puerto Rico ended up finishing with the silver medal at the Pan American Cup.
The top four teams in each six-team pool advance to the knockout stage where the winner of each six-team pool gets to face the crossover pool’s fourth seed. The second- and third-place teams will have their quarterfinal opponents drawn by lot. The semifinals take place on Aug. 18 followed by the medal matches on Aug. 20.
By the Numbers:
- 1 – USA Head Coach Karch Kiraly, already the first person to win gold as a player in indoor and beach volleyball, is attempting to become the first person to win gold as a player and lead a team to gold as a head coach (note: Jenny Lang Ping, head coach of China’s women’s team, is also attempting the feat)
- 4 – USA has four Olympic veterans (Foluke Akinradewo, Christa Dietzen Jordan Larson, Courtney Thompson)
- 8 – USA has eight newcomers on the 2016 Olympic Games roster (Rachael Adams, Kayla Banwarth, Alisha Glass, Kim Hill, Carli Lloyd, Karsta Lowe, Kelly Murphy, Kelsey Robinson)
- 12 – USA has won 12 of its last 14 Olympic Games matches – both losses to Brazil in gold-medal matches in 2008 and 2012
- 12 – USA has qualified for the Olympics for the 12th time and will be competing in the Games for the 11th time (note: Team USA qualified for 1980 Olympics, but boycott prevented them from competing)