Members of the U.S. women's indoor volleyball team celebrate at the FIVB Volleyball Nations League on July 7, 2019 in Nanjing, China.
The final match got hairy and scary, but in the end the U.S. women’s volleyball team got it done, clinching their second consecutive FIVB Volleyball Women’s Nations League title Sunday in a five-game thriller against Brazil in Nanjing, China.
After an incredibly consistent start to the continent-hopping Nations League that saw the U.S. play 15 matches spread across in Bulgaria, Italy, Nebraska, China and Russia in just five weeks, and then three more wins in the final round this past week, the Americans found themselves in a 2-0 hole two sets into Sunday’s championship round with Brazil.
Faced with the possibility of straight set elimination, the U.S. surged back, taking the next two to tie the score at 2-2 and forcing a fifth set.
The teams dueled to the wire before the Americans edged their South American rivals for the 3-2 victory, retaining the title they won in last year’s inaugural Nations League tournament. The final score was 20-25, 22-25, 25-15, 25-21, 15-13.
Andrea Drews’s 33 points led Team USA, with 22 coming on kills. Drews became only the second American after Jordan Thompson on Friday to score more than 30 points in a Nations League match.
Brazil, which fell 3-1 to the Americans in the final group-stage game Friday (25-18, 25-19, 20-25, 25-21), looked like a new team in Sunday’s final as it earned runner-up honors. Host China was third.
Led by outside hitters Jordan Larson, a 2012 and 2016 Olympian, and 2016 Olympian Kelsey Robinson as well as a host of highly accomplished players, the U.S. met each challenge of the Nations League.
The Americans opened the final round with a strong showing against Poland on Wednesday (21-25, 25-16, 25-15, 26-24), then topped Brazil to advance to the semifinals. A day later, they dispatched host China in the semifinal with yet another 3-1 victory (25-11, 15-25, 25-17, 25-20), winning the right to face Brazil again in the final. China, Italy and Poland completed the six-nation final round.
The U.S. was 12-3 in the preliminary round this season and took advantage of the pacing of the tournament to change up its lineups and try new combinations. Heading into the final showdown with Brazil, coach Karch Kiraly said he was looking to the team to improve on its transitions and out of system hitting. Ultimately though, it was the effort of each individual that got them to the final, he added.
“Every single person who’s traveled for some part of Volleyball Nations League has made significant contributions,” Kiraly noted.