OKAYAMA, Japan (Aug. 30, 2015) – The U.S. Women’s National Team, ranked No. 1 in the world by the FIVB, started the second round of the FIVB World Cup by defeating Kenya 25-15, 25-16, 25-13 Sunday afternoon in Okayama, Japan.
Team USA was led by a pair of Penn State alum combining for 30 points. Nicole Fawcett (Zanesfield, Ohio) led the Americans with 16 points via 13 kills on 25 attacks and three blocks. Megan Easy (Boston, Mass.), who missed most of 2013 and all of 2014, charted 14 points in the victory with 13 kills on 17 errorless attacks and a block.
Easy feels that she is getting more into the flow of the international game after being away from the game, and it has shown in her recent match performances.
"It is always a journey being away for a while and coming back," Easy said. "It just kinds of ebbs and flows. Initially I think the summer started really well, and then it had some down periods. Now it is kind of back on a upswing for me. I am just here to help this team win and do what I can. Luckily for me things are going well, and I am just trying to work hard and do what I can."
Team USA improves to 5-1 overall, one match behind tournament leader Russia (5-0). The Americans continue the second round in Okayama with matches against Argentina on Aug. 31 (2:10 a.m. ET) and versus NORCECA rival Cuba on Sept. 1 (5:10 a.m. ET). Team USA concludes the World Cup in Nagoya with matches against Russia on Sept. 4, Japan on Sept. 5 and Dominican Republic on Sept. 6.
Kelsey Robinson (Bartlett, Ill.) added eight points, all on kills coming from 23 swings. Tori Dixon (Burnsville, Minn.) pocketed eight points via six kills on eight attacks, one block and one ace. Lauren Gibbemeyer (St. Paul, Minn.) totaled seven points with three kills on 10 errorless attacks and a team-best four blocks. Molly Kreklow (Delano, Minn.) tallied two points with a kill and ace, while Karsta Lowe (Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.) rounded out the scoring with one point as a sub in the first set.
"I think we played well together as a team," Fawcett said. "Kenya played phenomenally against us. They had some great touches and played a great game and really worked us and forced us to figure out combinations on how to play them. We changed our game plan on blocking because they were hitting some good shots that we weren’t blocking in the beginning and we made a good adjustment on that. Kenya is a very aggressive and offensive team, and they have a strong mentality, and that’s important at the international level."
"We don’t often get to play Kenya in World Cups and rarely in between," U.S. Women's National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly said. "I want to congratulate them. I really love the spirit that they play the game with. They play a game where they obviously enjoy what they’re doing and they have a great fighting spirit."
Robinson led the Americans with 12 excellent receptions on 19 chances, along with nine digs. Easy contributed a team-best 13 digs to go with five excellent receptions. Libero Natalie Hagglund (Encinitas, Calif.) totaled nine digs in the victory.
The U.S. converted 51.7 percent of its attacks into points with a .471 hitting efficiency (45-4-87) as Kreklow provided 42 running sets on 71 set attempts. The American defense held Kenya to a 27.0 kill percent and .056 hitting efficiency (24-19-89). The U.S. held a 9-2 advantage in blocks and a 45-24 margin in kills. Team USA held a slim 2-1 edge in aces. However, the U.S. committed 14 service errors in the match as part of 17 errors given to Kenya.
"On our side of the net, I thought our players were communicating well and planning well," Kiraly said. "Probably the biggest disappointment for us was our serving game was not where we wanted it be. We have some process goals every match we have and we fell short in that one, so we look forward to tomorrow's match to get better in that skill."
Kiraly sees the chance to improve each match as one of this team's biggest strengths.
"Our big goal is to be the best learners and improvers we can possibly be," Kiraly said. "We want to be better tomorrow than we were today and better next week than we were this week. If we can do that, we can do some special things."
Easy is quick to point out that the competition may not be the same level, but the challenges are still there for her and her teammates.
"I think a lot of it for me is just playing," Easy said. "I need to be on the court and get those reps because that is what I really missed. The competition is not at the same level that maybe we are used to, but it creates different challenges for us. It kind of lets us focus on what we are doing a little more. It is a different kind of challenge, but it pushes us."
Kenya, ranked 19th in the world, falls to 0-6 in the tournament. The top two teams in the 12-team, round-robin World Cup earn berths into the 2016 Olympic Games.
Dixon scored the first two points of the opening set and then Kenya hit wide to give the Americans a 3-0 advantage. After Kenya closed 4-2, Team USA rolled off four straight with two kills from Robinson and a Gibbemeyer block to give the U.S. an 8-2 lead. Out of the break, Robinson hit a winner and Dixon served an ace to push the American lead to 10-2. Kenya kept the score close, but called its second timeout trailing 21-13 after a Robinson kill. Lowe gave the U.S. match points with a block at 24-14 and Team USA closed out the set 25-15 on an Easy kill.
The U.S. scored three unanswered points to take a 7-4 lead with a Robinson kill and two Kenya errors to break a 4-all tie early in the second set. Easy put the USA up 12-6 with a kill. Kenya closed to four points at 14-10 before Fawcett swung for two kills at 16-10. Fawcett added a block out of the timeout to lift the Americans up to 17-10. After Kenya closed to 20-14, the Americans scored five of the final seven points as Team USA rolled the rest of the way to a 25-16 victory.
Team USA started the third set with a 4-0 lead with kills from Dixon, Fawcett and Easy. Kreklow served an ace to yield a 14-7 American advantage. Fawcett pushed the U.S. in front 16-9 at the second technical timeout with a cross-court winner. Gibbemeyer pounded consecutive kills to give the U.S. a 19-11 advantage. Team USA reached match point at 24-13 and Fawcett ended it on a block at 25-13.
All Team USA contests at the World Cup, can be watched live online at universalsports.com/Olympics as well as on a tape-delay basis on its Universal Sports television.
U.S. Women's National Volleyball Team Roster for FIVB World Cup
# - Name (Position, Ht, Hometown, College)
1 – Alisha Glass (S, 6-0, Leland, Mich., Penn State University)
2 – Kayla Banwarth (L, 5-10, Dubuque, Iowa, University of Nebraska)
8 – Lauren Gibbemeyer (MB, 6-2, St. Paul, Minn., University of Minnesota)
10 – Jordan Larson-Burbach (OH, 6-2, Hooper, Neb., University of Nebraska)
11 – Megan Easy (OH, 6-3, Boston, Mass., Penn State University)
13 – Christa Dietzen (MB, 6-2, Hopewell Township, Pa., Penn State University)
14 – Nicole Fawcett (OPP, 6-4, Zanesfield, Ohio, Penn State University)
15 – Kim Hill (OH, 6-4, Portland, Ore., Pepperdine University)
16 – Foluke Akinradewo (MB, 6-3, Plantation, Fla., Stanford University)
17 – Natalie Hagglund (L, 5-9, Encinitas, Calif., University of Southern California)
18 – Molly Kreklow (S, 5-9, Delano, Minn., University of Missouri)
21 – Tori Dixon (MB, 6-3, Burnsville, Minn., University of Minnesota)
23 – Kelsey Robinson (OH, 6-2, Bartlett, Ill., University of Nebraska)
25 – Karsta Lowe (OPP, 6-4, Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., UCLA)
Head Coach: Karch Kiraly
Assistant Coaches: Jamie Morrison and Tom Black
Technical Coordinator: Joe Trinsey
Team Manager: Denise Sheldon
Athletic Trainer: Jill Wosmek
Team Doctors: Dr. William Briner, Jr. and Dr. Andrew Gregory
Consultant Coaches: Marv Dunphy and David Hunt
2015 FIVB World Cup Schedule (Local Time/ET Time – Television Time on Universal)
Aug. 22: USA def. Korea 25-15, 25-22, 25-15
Aug. 23: Serbia def. USA 25-20, 22-25, 18-25, 25-19, 15-6
Aug. 24: USA def. China 25-23, 25-17, 25-23
Aug. 26: USA def. Peru 25-17, 25-15, 25-12
Aug. 27: USA def. Algeria 25-7, 25-2, 25-5
Aug. 30: USA def. Kenya 25-15, 25-16, 25-13
Aug. 31: USA vs. Argentina (3:10 p.m./2:10 a.m. – 5 p.m.) (at Okayama)
Sept. 1: USA vs. Cuba (6:40 p.m./5:40 a.m. – 5 p.m.) (at Okayama)
Sept. 4: USA vs. Russia (3:10 p.m./2:10 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.) (at Nagoya)
Sept. 5: USA vs. Japan (7:20 p.m./6:20 a.m. – 6 p.m.) (at Nagoya)
Sept. 6: USA vs. Dominican Republic (3:10 p.m./2:10 a.m. – 2 p.m.) (at Nagoya)