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USA Volleyball’s response to COVID-19 and guidelines toward Return to Play.

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (May 21, 2019) – Even with a young starting lineup with three players making their FIVB debuts, the U.S. Women’s National Team blanked Belgium 25-23, 25-8, 25-22 on Tuesday in Ruse, Bulgaria, to open the 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League. Team USA never trailed in any of the three sets.

The U.S. faces long-time rival Japan on May 22 at 10 a.m. ET before concluding the opening week round robin on May 23 against host Bulgaria at 1:30 p.m. ET. All VNL matches are available on flovolleyball.tv

“USA just finished beating Belgium in our first match of Volleyball Nations League in year two,” U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly said. “I am really impressed with this group. We have got a lot of youth here with four players making their national team debuts. Their poise, calm and consistency was particularly impressive. Also impressive was Jordyn Poulter, one of our young setters, having great confidence in Dana Rettke in setting her at 23-22 in the third set. Just fun to see all the contributions that people were able to make. We were 14 players strong and whether people got onto the court or not, everybody was adding a lot of value. That is what we are trying to do – add up to a lot more than 14 players out there. And they did a lot to do that.”

According to unofficial stats, opposite Annie Drews (Elkhart, Indiana) scored a match-high 19 points including 14 kills on 23 swings and five aces on 21 serves. Outside hitter Sarah Wilhite Parsons (Eden Prairie, Minnesota) totaled 15 points with 11 kills on 23 swings, two blocks and two aces. Middle Chiaka Ogbogu (Coppell, Texas) contributed eight kills on 14 swings with just one error to go with one block for nine points.

Outside hitter Madi Kingdon Rishel (Phoenix, Arizona) pocketed eight kills on 21 attacks in the victory. Middle Dana Rettke (Riverside, Illinois) used her 6-8 height over a smaller Belgium squad to score six kills on eight errorless attacks and two blocks.

USA setter Jordyn Poulter (Aurora, Colorado) set Team USA to a 52 kill percent and .378 hitting efficiency (47-13-90). The American defense held Belgium to a 32 kill percent and .175 hitting efficiency (26-12-80).

“Our first match of the VNL is over, and we came out on top with a 3-0 sweep of Belgium,” Poulter said.” I am really proud how the team rallied throughout the match. I thought we kept the pressure on them for most of the match and held a very steady composure. I am excited to get the VNL underway and looking forward to playing Japan tomorrow.”

American libero Megan Courtney (Dayton, Ohio) handled 14 receptions with a 43 positive percent. Wilhite Parsons was credited with a 47 positive reception percent on 19 chances. Kingdon Rishel charted 15 errorless receptions with a 40 positive reception percent.

The U.S. had a 7-4 advantage in aces, while Belgium held a 7-5 margin in blocks.

The U.S. built a 17-14 advantage, but Belgium clawed back to within a tie at 21-all on an ace. Team USA broke a 23-all tie with a Belgium error and a Drews searing kill for the match at 25-23. Drews finished the opening set with seven kills. In the second set, Drews served five aces in a 13-0 run leading the Americans to a 17-3 start en route to a 25-8 victory. The U.S. reached a 16-11 lead in the third set, but Belgium rallied to tie the set at 21-all on an ace. The Americans scored four of the final five points, including an overpass kill by Wilhite Parsons on match point 25-22.

The U.S. started Poulter at setter, Kingdon Rishel and Wilhite Parsons at outside hitter, Drews at opposite, Rettke and Ogbogu at middle. Courtney was the libero. Poulter, Rettke and Ogbogu were making their FIVB debuts. Mikaela Foecke (West Point, Iowa), also making her USA debut, was a serving sub in the first and third sets.

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.