Lora Webster and Katie Holloway block the ball at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Sept. 3, 2021 in Tokyo.
The U.S. women’s sitting volleyball is one step away from defending its Paralympic gold medal. The Americans will have to get past their old nemesis to do so.
Team USA swept past Brazil 25-19, 25-11, 25-23 in the Paralympic semifinals Friday at Tokyo’s Makuhari Messe Hall. That sets up the fourth Paralympic gold-medal game showdown in a row against China, the longtime power of the sport that Team USA finally knocked off the top of the podium in 2016. The final is set for Sunday morning in Tokyo, which is 9 p.m. ET Saturday.
China won the first three Paralympic gold medals in women’s sitting volleyball, from 2004 through 2012, beating Team USA in each of the latter two finals. However, the Americans turned the tables in 2016, coming back from a pool play loss to sweep China in the final.
This year’s championship should be just as compelling.
Once again the teams already met once, in the preliminary round, when China swept the U.S. 3-0 on Monday. Both advanced out of Pool B to the semifinals, however, with China then sweeping Canada in the second game to set up the championship rematch.
“I really feel like we haven’t played our best yet, which is great because you want to peak at the end of the tournament,” U.S. setter Kaleo Maclay said. “Hopefully we are on our way there”
That’s good news for the Americans, who dominated the major statistical categories against Brazil, claiming advantages in kills (35-18), blocks (14-9) and digs (28-7). Opposite Heather Erickson led the way for Team USA, scoring 12 points on a match-high eight kills, three blocks and two aces.
“Brazil is a really fun team to play,” she said. “You look at the score and it feels like it is 20-20 the entire game.”
Middle blocker Lora Webster added 10 points for the U.S., while outside hitter Monique Matthews and middle blocker Jillian Williams added nine apiece.
“We’re still not playing up to the level we know we can,” U.S. Head Coach Bill Hamiter said. “We did what we had to do and now we have to focus on what’s next.”
Some were surprised to see another Team USA-China final, owing to the improved depth in the field and the success of European teams in other competitions. No country has won more world championships on the women’s side than the Netherlands, with four, while Russia defeated Team USA in the most recent world championships final in 2018.
“Sitting volleyball has always been dominant in Europe, and those were always our benchmarks,” Webster said. “Now you just see these teams coming up, like Canada and Italy, who are going to be a force.”
Once again, though, this year’s final will come down to the old rivals.
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit TeamUSA.org/Tokyo-2020-Paralympic-Games to view the medal table and results.