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U.S. Women’s Volleyball Team Jumps Out To A Perfect Start In Volleyball Nations League

By Karen Price | May 23, 2019, 5:34 p.m. (ET)

(C) Dana Rettke spikes the ball in a Volleyball Nations League match against Bulgaria on May 23, 2019 in Ruse, Bulgaria.

 

The U.S. women’s national team opened its Volleyball Nations League title defense with a handful of newcomers and that youth served them well in week one of the premier annual tournament.

Team USA won all three matches of the opening week in Ruse, Bulgaria, with a number of players making their FIVB debuts. With a new-look roster, the U.S. rolled to three consecutive victories while dropping just one set along the way. Team USA wrapped up the three-match series with a sweep of Bulgaria on its home court on Thursday.

The tournament features 16 countries competing in 15 round robin matches over five weeks. The U.S. has 25 players on the roster, but coaches designate 14 members to play each week. Of the 25 on the U.S. roster, 14 were members of the team that won last year's inaugural tournament — and the $1 million prize — and six won the bronze medal at the Olympic Games Rio 2016.

First up was Belgium and even with the young roster the U.S. never trailed in any of the three sets en route to a 25-23, 25-8, 25-22 victory. Opposite Annie Drews, who was a member of the gold medal-winning team last year, scored a match-high 19 points including 14 kills on 23 swings and five aces on 21 serves. Setter Jordyn Poulter and middles Dana Rettke and Chiaka Ogbogu all made their FIVB starting debuts against Belgium.

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Next up was longtime rival Japan, a game that saw middle Haleigh Washington not only make her FIVB debut but also lead the team in scoring with 20 points in a 25-21, 24-26, 25-21, 25-20 victory. She got there by racking up 12 kills on 20 attacks and added five blocks and three aces on 22 serves.

Another young player, 22-year-old Jordan Thompson, scored 14 points with 11 kills on 17 attacks and three blocks despite only coming into the game in the third set. In all, six U.S. players reached double-digits in scoring in the hard-fought matchup.

Rounding out the opening week, the U.S. faced host Bulgaria on Thursday. Poulter again started at setter while Rettke and Ogbogu were also among the starters and the U.S. won, 25-20, 25-16, 25-21. Sarah Wilhite Parsons, who previously competed with the national team at the 2018 world championship, led the team with 16 points while Rettke added 12.

The top five teams from the preliminary round will compete in the VNL Final Six along with host China beginning July 3. The U.S. women travel next to Conegliano Venato, Italy where they will face Serbia, Italy and the Dominican Republic beginning Tuesday.

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.