It didn’t happen the way the U.S. women’s volleyball team would’ve hoped, but at the end of the day, a win is a win.
The U.S. defeated Bulgaria 3-2 at the Olympic qualification tournament in Shreveport-Bossier City, Louisiana, pushed to the edge by the No. 16 team in the world.
Losing two sets cost the U.S. the opportunity to clinch the pool victory and with it a spot at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, but the win gives the squad another opportunity to do so in its final match of the tournament.
The team with the best record at the end of the weekend-long tournament earns itself a spot in Tokyo, while five other five other Olympic spots are being contested simultaneously in five other pools around the world. Japan has the first spot as the host country, while Brazil claimed a spot as the victor of Pool D.
With wins against Bulgaria and No. 23 Kazakhstan under its belt, the U.S. will qualify for Tokyo should it beat No. 11 Argentina on Sunday.
Should the U.S. not qualify, there will be another opportunity to do so in January 2020 through a zonal tournament.
The U.S. had won its previous four matchups against Bulgaria, most recently a convincing 3-0 win at the 2019 Volleyball Nations League. Bulgaria has not been to the Olympics since 1980, its only Olympic appearance, when it won bronze.
Two-time Olympian Jordan Larson led the U.S. in scoring with 23 points, while Jordan Thompson added 19. Bulgaria’s Elitsa Vasileva led all scorers with 24 points. Miroslava Paskova chipped in 21.
Bulgaria got off to a fast start, leading 8-4 at the first technical time out. The U.S. closed the gap and tied things up at 20 apiece on a kill by Olympian Kim Hill. Bulgaria called a time out and rattled off three consecutive points following, taking the first set 25-21.
Bulgaria jumped out to an early lead in the second set, but the U.S. tied things up at 10-10 on a block by Larson. The teams traded blows from there but the U.S. began to pull ahead late, taking the set 25-18.
In the third set, it was the U.S.’s turn to get off to a fast start, but Bulgaria pulled even and put things out of reach to win 25-21. The U.S. started strong again in the fourth set as well. Bulgaria called a time out when the U.S. led 19-15 and pulled to within two, but the U.S. surged to a 25-20 win on a decisive kill by Thompson.
The tiebreaking set was a nail-biter most of the way, but the U.S. rose to the occasion and pulled away late, winning 15-10.
The tournament wraps up with the U.S. taking on Argentina and Bulgaria squaring off against Kazakhstan.