By Karen Price | June 06, 2019, 11:31 p.m. (ET)
Lauren Gibbemeyer attacks off a Carli Lloyd set at a Volleyball Nations League match against Germany on June 6, 2019 in Lincoln, Nebraska.

 

The FIVB Volleyball Nations League tournament takes players all over the world for the round-robin competition, and to start this year’s quest for a second consecutive gold medal the U.S. women traveled first to Bulgaria then Italy.

This week, however, they got to play on home soil.

The U.S. hosted the third week of play in Lincoln, Nebraska, and while the excitement of being on their own turf wasn’t quite enough to result in a three-game sweep, the U.S. nonetheless went 2-1 and is now 7-2 as it passed the halfway mark of pool play. The U.S. is now ranked third with six matches left in the preliminary round.

The U.S. faced its toughest test in this trio of games in the home finale against Brazil on Thursday night. Brazil, ranked No. 4 in the world just behind the U.S., took the first two sets before ultimately winning in four.

Unforced errors piled up for the U.S. early on as Brazil kept the Americans off-kilter and cruised to wins of 25-19 and 25-17 to force a must-win third set for the U.S.

Annie Drews registered a kill to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead in the third set, but Brazil quickly tied it and took a lead. The teams alternated points until the U.S. regained the lead at 7-6. Outside Jordan Larson found a hole and increased the U.S. lead to 10-7 as the Americans continued to push and finally get some momentum as they rallied to a 25-22 victory.

The fourth set was close throughout the first half but Brazil held the advantage and built up a 14-11 lead, its largest of the set thus far, before the U.S. called timeout. With Brazil up 18-14, Drews got two kills and a block to pull her team within one, but Brazil surged ahead again to make it 21-18 and soon cap it off, 25-20.

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The U.S. opened the three-night set of games against South Korea on Tuesday, and the underdogs took it to the U.S. to kick things off. They jumped out to a 7-1 lead and took the first set but then the U.S. settled down and returned to their game in set No. 2. The Americans opened up a 12-3 lead and used five aces to help win the set, then held strong to take a 19-25, 25-15, 25-22, 25-18 victory.

Middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu led the team with 16 points followed by Larson — a Nebraska native who played college volleyball in Lincoln — with 13 points and middle Tori Dixon with 10 points.

The second game saw the U.S. overpower Germany in a three-set sweep, winning 25-18, 25-22, 25-18. Germany did make a stand in the second set, going ahead 20-18, but the U.S. responded to the pressure by scoring seven of the final nine points for the victory.

Outside hitter Kelsey Robinson led the way on the score sheet with 11 kills on 25 attacks, four blocks and three aces for 18 points. Opposite Jordan Thompson had 14 points and outside hitter Mikaela Foecke, a recent Nebraska alum who used the time back in the U.S. to get married on Saturday, also had 14 points.

The U.S. won the VNL in 2018, the first year for the tournament that includes 16 countries each playing 15 preliminary round matches before the top five teams along with the host country meet in a final round. China is hosting this year’s final round, which begins on July 3.

Week four of the tournament will take the U.S. to Jiangmen, China, where the team will face Turkey, Poland and China. Turkey leads the standings with an 8-1 record, followed by four teams with 7-2 records, including the U.S.

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.