Turkey and Serbia were the only teams to deal the U.S. women’s volleyball squad losses during the 15-match preliminary round of the FIVB Volleyball Nations League tournament, so rematches against both in the pool play that kicked off the final round could have been cause for concern.
There was little need, however, as the U.S. advanced to the semifinals with wins over both nations this week in Pool B play in Nanjing, China. The Americans will now face the loser of the game between top-ranked China and No. 4 Brazil, both teams they beat in the preliminary round, for the chance to play for the gold medal. The semifinals are set for Saturday with the medal round on Sunday.
Up first on Wednesday the U.S. faced Turkey, which dealt the Americans a five-set loss to open the Nations League in mid-May. It seemed the same might happen this week after Turkey came back from deficits to win both the first two sets. Sparked by Michelle Bartsch-Hackley, who came off the bench to start the third set and went on to score 21 points, the U.S. took the third and fourth sets to force a fifth-set tiebreaker, much as they did on May 16 in the preliminary round.
This time, however, the U.S. used a 4-0 run after the set was tied 8-8 to push ahead to victory, 17-25, 21-25, 25-21, 25-15, 15-11.
Opposite Kelly Murphy had 15 kills on 28 attacks, one block and one ace for 17 points, and outside hitter Jordan Larson contributed eight kills on 34 attacks and five aces, including two in the 4-0 fifth-set run, and one block for 14 points.
On Friday, the U.S. women faced the team that ended their 10-game winning streak in the tournament and knocked them out of gold-medal contention at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 in the semifinals. This time was a different story, as the U.S. swept third-ranked Serbia 29-27, 25-22, 25-19 to secure a place in the semifinals.
Once again, Bartsch-Hackley was a force for the Americans, finishing with 14 kills on 32 attacks and two aces for 16 points. Murphy and middle Foluke Akinradewo both added nine points in the victory.
Although Serbia used some good runs to take a 21-20 lead in the first set, a 20-18 lead in the second set and came within two points of the U.S. at 15-13 in the third set, Team USA relied on patience and the opponent’s mistakes to claim victory in all three and move on in the tournament.