COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (July 16, 2017) – With a top eight gold bracket spot on the line in the FIVB Women’s U20 World Championship, the U.S. Women’s Junior National Team rallied from two sets down to defeat Serbia 22-25, 10-25, 26-24, 25-23, 17-15 on Sunday to conclude the first round Pool C of the at Boca del Rio, Mexico.

The U.S. (2-1) fought back into the match despite trailing in double digits the first two sets and winning the final three sets in tight fashion. The Americans will now have a bye day on Monday before playing its first gold bracket match on Tuesday against an opponent to be determined in Cordoba, Mexico.

The gold bracket is divided into two groups of four teams playing a round robin format with matches July 18-20. The top two teams in each pool then advances to the semifinals on July 22 with the final classification matches on July 23.

Related: Official Stats

The Americans had balanced scoring with four players in double figures. Ronika Stone (San Jose, California) scored 15 points with 10 kills on 23 attacks, three aces and two blocks. Leah Edmond (Lexington, Kentucky) contributed 15 points, all on kills coming via 39 wings. Brionne Butler (Kendleton, Texas) provided nine kills on 16 attacks and three blocks for 12 points. Holly Carlton (Sterling, Virginia) pocketed eight kills on 30 attacks and two blocks for 10 points.

Setter MacKenzi Welsh (Bolingbrook, Illinois), who started the final three sets to spark the U.S. offense, turned in six kills on eight attempts with an ace for seven points. Paige Hammons (Louisville, Kentucky), who started just the second set and was a sub in the other four sets, also was a spark with five points including three key aces. Thayer Hall (Moore, South Carolina) added four points with three kills and a block. Regan Pittman (Spring Hill, Kansas) contributed two kills on six swings in starting just the second set. Setter Norene Iosia (Torrance, California) rounded out the scoring with an ace as she started the first two sets and was a sub in the final three sets.

“After a rocky start, we definitely brought it back,” Hall said. “Serbia started off strong and gave us a good match. In the third set, we were not ready lie down and die. We fought back hard and stuck together as a team. We worked together every point one at a time and made our way back to the top. We are excited to go the gold bracket.”

Gabby Curry (Buford, Georgia), getting her first start at libero after Tiffany Clark (Naperville, Illinois) was injured in the final plays of Saturday’s win over Cuba, turned in 24 digs with 16 excellent receptions on 28 chances. Edmond handled 34 serves with 15 excellent receptions to go with 16 digs. Hall added 13 digs.

“We are excited about a win over a really tough Serbia team,” Curry said. “With the changes we made, we started clicking. I thought we made some good plays and it was team effort. We stayed together as a team, didn’t give up and worked hard until to the very end. We are very much looking forward to making the trip over to Cordoba, playing in the Top 8 and still playing for the World Championship.”

Welsh was credited with 25 running sets on 61 total set attempts, while Iosia chipped in 19 running sets on 46 chances. The duo led Team USA to a 36.2 kill percent and .237 hitting efficiency. The American defense limited Serbia to a 37.3 kill percent and .193 hitting efficiency.

Serbia held advantages kills (60-55), blocks (13-8) and aces (10-8) for which most of the differences came in the opening two sets. Both teams committed 29 errors in the match.

Serbia lost despite the massive offensive performance by Katarina Lazovic, who scored a match-high 32 points.

The Americans started Butler and Stone at middle, Hall and Edmond at outside hitter, Carlton at opposite and Iosia at setter. Gabby Curry (Buford, Georgia) was making her first start at libero following an injury to Tiffany Clark (Naperville, Illinois) in the final two points of Saturday’s sweep of Cuba.

In the opening set, Serbia gained a double-digit lead that the Americans closed to within three at 19-16. After Serbia increased its margin to 21-16, the U.S. scored five of the next six points to move to within one at 22-21. However, Serbia responded by taking three of the final four points to win 25-22.

Serbia raced to a 10-4 advantage in the second set and advanced to margin to 15-6. Serbia built a lead as much as 15 points and went on to win 25-10.

The U.S. opened the third set with a 3-0 advantage and pushed ahead to 7-3. Serbia closed the gap to one at 13-12. The U.S. went into the second technical timeout leading 16-14, but Serbia leveled the score at 16-all with the first two points out of the break and then took its first lead of the set at 18-17. Serbia extended its advantage to 21-18, but the Americans fought back to tie the set at 21-all with three straight points. The U.S. regained the lead back at 23-22 as part of a 5-1 scoring spurt. Team USA won the set 26-24 on its second set point opportunity.

Serbia started the fourth set with a 3-0 lead and went into the first technical timeout with a commanding 8-2 advantage. Team USA battled back to within 9-7 on a 5-1 spurt. The U.S. scored consecutive points to narrow the gap to a single point at 13-12, then went into the lead at 16-15 on a 6-2 spurt as Hammons keyed the run with two aces. Serbia came out of the technical timeout with the next three points for an 18-16 lead. The Americans responded by with five unanswered points to grab a 22-19 advantage. Serbia stopped the run with two points of its own to move to within one at 22-21, but the Americans scored back-to-back points to reach set points at 24-21. The U.S. closed out the set at 25-23 after Serbia saved two set points.

The Americans earned the first two points of the tiebreaker, but Serbia scored three straight to take a 5-3 advantage. Team USA answered with four consecutive points to stake a two-point cushion at 7-5. After the side switch, Serbia scored two straight to even the set at 8-all. The U.S. scored consecutive points to earn match points at 14-12, but Serbia saved both match points to level the contest at 14-all. However, the U.S. won the match on its fourth set point opportunity at 17-15.

U.S. Women’s Junior National Team
# – Name (Position, 2017 Club/College, Height, Hometown, Region)
1 – Brionne Butler (M, University of Texas, 6-4, Kendleton, Texas, Lone Star)
2 – Tiffany Clark (L, University of Wisconsin, 5-11, Naperville, Illinois, Great Lakes)
3 – Thayer Hall (OH, Upward Stars, 6-3, Moore, South Carolina, Palmetto)
4 – Paige Hammons (OH, University of Florida, 6-2, Louisville, Kentucky, Pioneer)
5 – Regan Pittman (M, University of Minnesota, 6-5, Spring Hill, Kansas, Heart of America)
6 – Holly Carlton (OPP, University of North Carolina, 6-7, Sterling, Virginia, Chesapeake)
8 – Ronika Stone (OPP, University of Oregon, 6-2, San Jose, California, Northern California)
11 – Norene Iosia (S, University of Hawaii, 5-11, Torrance, California, Southern California)
12 – MacKenzi Welsh (S, University of Michigan, 6-1, Bolingbrook, Illinois, Great Lakes)
14 – Gabby Curry (L, University of Kentucky, 5-9, Buford, Georgia, Southern)
15 – Rachael Kramer (M, University of Florida, 6-8, Phoenix, Arizona, Arizona)
17 – Leah Edmond (OH, University of Kentucky, 6-2, Lexington, Kentucky, Pioneer)

Head Coach: Laurie Corbelli (head coach at Texas A&M University)
Assistant Coach: Blake Rawlins (head trainer at Top Select Volleyball Academy)
Assistant Coach: Jay Van Vark (assistant coach at Grand Canyon University)
Team Leader: Tom Pingel (USA Volleyball High Performance)
Athletic Trainer: Ronni Beatty-Kollasch (University of Minnesota)

2017 FIVB Volleyball Women’s U20 World Championship

Pool C at Boca del Rio, Mexico
July 14: USA vs. Brazil 25-10, 25-12, 24-26, 25-22
July 15: USA def. Cuba 31-29, 25-20, 25-23
July 16: USA def. Serbia 22-25, 10-25, 26-24, 25-23, 17-15