It’s official: the U.S. women are on top of the world at the inaugural FIVB Volleyball Nations League tournament, at least as far as the five-week preliminary round goes.
The team clinched the top overall spot in the round-robin with a win over 16th-place Argentina, 25-15, 25-14, 25-15, on Thursday night in Santa Fe, Argentina, wrapping up the round with a 13-2 record. The U.S. had already clinched its spot in the six-team final round, becoming the first country to do so outside of China, which is hosting in Nanjing.
The U.S. is now expected to play Serbia, which ended Team USA’s 10-match winning streak earlier this week, and Turkey in the final round of pool play beginning June 27. They are the only teams to beat the U.S. in Nations League play.
“We wanted to end this long tournament with a good match and we are ready to push on now,” said outside hitter Michelle Bartsch-Hackley. “We are excited to go home and restart.”
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On Wednesday, the women swept South Korea, 25-13, 25-23, 25-19, to improve to 12-2 in the standings. After the big opening set win, the Americans watched their opponents come back from a five-point deficit in the second set and take a 20-19 lead, but the U.S. prevailed with a kill by Olympic bronze medalist Kelly Murphy and a net violation by the Koreans that put them ahead 22-20. The U.S led the entire third set.
Middle Lauren Gibbemeyer had 11 points, three blocks and one ace, two-time Olympic medalist Jordan Larson had 10 points and Murphy finished with 10 points.
The U.S. team suffered just its second loss of the tournament on Tuesday, falling to Serbia, 30-28, 23-25, 25-20, 25-18. They came from behind twice to win the second set but the Serbians, who improved to 10-3 and now sit in third place after the win, eased to victory in the final two sets after winning the first.
Bartsch-Hackley had an impressive 26 points to lead all scorers while middle Foluke Akinradewo, a two-time Olympic medalist, had 11 points and opposite Annie Drews totaled 10.
Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.