US women’s volleyball team moves closer to Olympic berth
LINCOLN, Nebraska— Perhaps losing a set might have been a positive for the world No. 1 U.S. women’s volleyball team.
The Americans had to regroup to put away Puerto Rico.
Karsta Lowe and Tori Dixon provided a powerful attack in the crucial third set, Foluke Akinradewo and Kelsey Robinson set the tone with strong blocking up front, and the U.S. team moved one step closer to securing an Olympic bid with a 25-14, 24-26, 25-12, 25-14 win over the scrappy Puerto Ricans on Friday night.
“What we’ve learned from the past two matches we’ve played is that no one’s going to hand it to us,” Akinradewo said. “We learned that patience is definitely the key.”
Akinradewo keyed the attack in the fourth set along with Nicole Fawcett as the Americans clinched at least a second-place finish, which would keep them in the race to Rio.
BACKSTORY: US settles for silver in women’s volleyball
They will look to win this qualifying event and earn the NORCECA automatic bid for the Rio de Janeiro Games in the final match of their round-robin schedule Saturday night against seventh-ranked Dominican Republic, which rallied from one set down to beat No. 16 Canada in the first match Friday, 25-27, 25-16, 26-24, 25-20, for its second victory in Nebraska.
With a cast of big hitters on coach Karch Kiraly’s 14-player roster, it just took getting a few of them going down the stretch. Not to mention some timely defense from the back row as Puerto Rico dug out some tough balls.
“We’ve been working really hard on defense and staying patient,” Natalie Hagglund said. “That’s what’s so special about USA Volleyball, every single player on this team is great, amazing players. We can trust if one person isn’t necessarily doing great or tired one night that someone else can come in and play and push that other side.”
Losing the big lead in the second set was disappointing, but that also provided a push.
“We had a pretty good lead in that second set and we let them kind of get back into it,” Dixon said. “One play here or there and little things that added up at the end. We did really good job between sets just to kind of reset.”
No. 15 Puerto Rico — a four-set loser to the Dominican Republic in Thursday’s opening match — will play Canada for third place Saturday to stay alive for an Olympic bid.
This weekend’s second- and third-place finishers have one final opportunity to reach the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in May qualifying — one site in Japan and another still to be determined.
Kiraly is substituting liberally at this stage given his deep team featuring so many players he trusts to deliver on the big stage, and also to regularly give opponents new, varying looks.
In all but the second set, the U.S. overpowered the Puerto Ricans and thwarted many attack chances with superb blocking up front and strong defense. After falling behind 14-10 in the second set, the Americans rallied off seven straight points and nine of 10 before Puerto Rico came back to even the match at one set apiece.
“I thought it was really good for us. I thought we responded well,” Kiraly said. “I think we were expecting them to give us something and they gave us nothing. Our focus here has really been having to go out and earn it and go get it.”