U.S. coach Karch Kiraly told media at the FIVB Women’s World Championship that his team would not be watching China’s match against Russia on Thursday night, but that didn’t change the fact that they had everything riding on the outcome.
With losses to world No. 1 China on Wednesday and undefeated Italy on Thursday in their final two games of second-round action, the Americans needed China to win in order to advance to the final six as the last team out of Pool F in Osaka, Japan.
Fortunately for the U.S., China overcame Russia in four sets and therefore the defending champions from 2014 remain in the hunt for the 2018 world title.
Team USA opened the second round strong with a 25-16, 25-17, 25-11 sweep of Bulgaria on Sunday and another sweep on Monday, this time over Turkey, 25-21, 25-17, 25-18, to improve to 7-0.
On Wednesday, the U.S. suffered its first loss of the tournament to defending Olympic champion China, falling 25-17, 26-24, 25-18 and ending the team’s winning streak at seven matches.
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The U.S. had its chances in the first two sets of the match, evening the score in the first and coming from behind to take a 23-22 lead in the second, but both times China was able to close things out to take a 2-0 lead before running away in the third set. Jordan Larson led the U.S. in scoring with 14 points.
That put China in second place in Pool F behind Italy and dropped the U.S. to third. The Americans would need to beat Italy in order to win a spot in the final six outright.
That didn’t happen.
Paola Egonu was a force, scoring an astonishing 33 points to lead undefeated Italy past the U.S. in four sets, 25-16, 25-23, 20-25, 25-16, on Thursday as second-round play concluded. Larson again led the team in scoring with 14 points and Kim Hill scored 12 as the U.S. fought back to claim the third set on the second set point, but Italy raced out to a 14-9 lead in the fourth. Egonu and Miriam Sylla helped Italy to dominate down the stretch and force the Americans in the position of having to wait on China and Russia to determine their fate.
When that happened the U.S., which is now 7-2, was able to edge Russia for third place in Pool F and a berth in the final six. The next round begins Sunday, and the tournament runs through Oct. 20.
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.