Vansant Sparks U.S. Women to Sweep of Belgium

By Bill Kauffman | July 05, 2015, 11:34 a.m. (ET)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (July 5, 2015) – Krista Vansant (Redlands, Calif.) made her first FIVB start a memorable experience in contributing 22 points to pace the U.S. Women’s National Team to a 25-19, 25-20, 25-18 victory over Belgium in FIVB World Grand Prix action on Sunday in Ankara, Turkey.

Team USA (3-0, 9 points), ranked No. 1 in the world by the FIVB, travels to Kalingard, Russia, for the second weekend of World Grand Prix preliminary round matches. The Americans face No. 7 Russia on July 10, followed by a rematch with No. 11 Turkey on July 11 before concluding with No. 8 Serbia on July 12.

The World Grand Prix is the premier annual international women’s volleyball tournament with the top 12 teams competing in nine preliminary matches to qualify for the six-team, round-robin Finals which will be held July 22-26 in Omaha, Neb.. This year marks the first time that the U.S. will host the Finals in the 23-year history of the event.

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Vansant, who earned most valuable player honors at last month’s Pan American Cup in Peru, tallied 18 kills on 33 attacks, two aces and two blocks for 22 points from her outside hitter spot. Opposite Nicole Fawcett (Zanesfield, Ohio) produced 12 points with nine kills on 18 swings and three blocks. Outside hitter Kim Hill (Portland, Ore.) contributed 11 points via nine kills on 24 attacks and two blocks.

Unlike last year when it opened the FIVB World Grand Prix in Turkey with a 1-2 record and struggled to find its rhythm, Team USA has started the 2015 campaign as one of three undefeated teams through the first three matches.

“Well the end of weekend one of World Grand Prix was a little different this year than last year when we struggled here in Turkey losing in four to Russia, losing to Turkey in five and winning against Japan in five,” U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly said. “We are doing some nice things. I am really happy that we were able to play so many people this weekend and get to learn more about what is a very deep roster for USA.”

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Team USA’s middle blockers combined for 13 points as Lauren Paolini (Ann Arbor, Mich.) contributed seven kills on 15 attacks and Cursty Jackson (Los Angeles) charted six kills on 11 swings. Setter Molly Kreklow (Delano, Minn.) scored two aces, while Karsta Lowe (Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.) rounded out the scoring with one kill.

Kreklow was credited with 20 running sets on 73 set attempts leading the Americans to a 47.6 kill percent and .314 hitting efficiency (50-17-105). Courtney Thompson (Kent, Wash.) added four running sets as a reserve in all three sets coming in as part of the double switch with Lowe. Kayla Banwarth (Dubuque, Iowa) recorded a team-best 12 digs in the victory. Vansant added 14 excellent receptions on 25 chances, while Hill totaled 10 excellent receptions on 21 chances.

The Americans held advantages in kills (50-32) and blocks (7-4), while Belgium recorded a 7-4 margin in aces. Team USA limited Belgium to a 35.2 kill percent and .193 hitting efficiency. The U.S. held its errors to 15 in the match, while Belgium had just 13 errors.

“We are generally happy with the three wins,” Kiraly said. “But we absolutely recognize that there some things we can get better at for next weekend and certainly with an eye toward the World Grand Prix Finals week and beyond that toward the first Olympic qualifier, the World Cup that starts in late August.”

The U.S. broke a 2-all tie in the opening set with a 10-1 run with five points from Vansant to take an 12-3 lead. Belgium cut the gap to 13-8 on a 4-0 run, but was unable to make another big run as the Americans closed the set at 25-19 with Vansant holding nine points. Belgium led 15-11 midway through the second set, only to see the U.S. come back to take the lead at 18-17 on consecutive points from Jackson. Team USA’s offense clicked the rest of the set to win 25-20 on a 14-5 run. Hill scored seven points in the set. The U.S. built an 8-4 lead at the first technical timeout of the third set and built a 19-8 lead. Belgium charged back to close to 23-18, but the U.S. finished out the set 25-18 on a Vansant ace.

“I think we improved a little bit,” Thompson said. “Our tip coverage was better tonight. Belgium is a great team. They served the ball really well, and I think our passers did a good job overall. There are still a lot of areas we need to get better, and we are excited about that.”

Belgium was led by Celine Van Gestel with 12 points off the bench, while Laura Heyman added 11 points.

“I was just talking with to Belgium coach (Gert Vande Broek), and he was saying ‘yes we have a small country with not many players. We are a little jealous of how many players you have.’ And I said, “Yes, I understand,’” Kiraly said. “We are incredibly fortunate and grateful for the deep level of talent we have in the USA.”

The U.S. has had three different players lead the team scoring in the first three matches with Kelsey Robinson (Bartlett, Ill.) contributing 16 points on Friday against Italy and Lowe tallying 23 points against Turkey on Saturday.

Through the opening preliminary round weekend, Brazil and China are the only other teams which remain undefeated and hold early advantages for a ticket to the World Grand Prix Finals in Omaha. The top five teams from the nine preliminary matches will earn tickets to Omaha to join Team USA for the six-team round-robin tournament.

After its three weekend matches in Russia next week, the U.S. concludes the preliminary round in Hong Kong with matches against No. 4 Japan on July 16, No. 12 Thailand on July 17 and versus No. 3 China on July 18.

“A lot of it is for us is what we need to do to get better tomorrow,” Thompson said in looking ahead to next week’s matches in Russia. “We are kind of one day at a time. I know there are three great teams and three good opportunities to learn.”

Team USA has won the FIVB World Grand Prix five times in the previous 22 editions. However, Brazil has won the last two titles in 2013 and 2014 after the U.S. had won the previous three World Grand Prix titles. Overall, Brazil has won a record 10 World Grand Prix titles.

2015 U.S. Women’s National Team Roster for FIVB World Grand Prix Week 1
# - Name (Position, Ht, Hometown, College)
2 – Kayla Banwarth (L, 5-10, Dubuque, Iowa, University of Nebraska)
3 – Courtney Thompson (S, 5-8, Kent, Wash., University of Washington)
4 – Lauren Paolini (MB, 6-4, Ann Arbor, Mich., University of Texas)>
5 – Tama Miyashiro (L, 5-7, Kaneohe, Hawaii, University of Washington)
8 – Lauren Gibbemeyer (MB, 6-2, St. Paul, Minn., University of Minnesota)
11 – Megan Easy (OH, 6-3, Durham, N.C., Penn State University)
14 – Nicole Fawcett (OPP, 6-4, Zanesfield, Ohio, Penn State University)
15 – Kim Hill (OH, 6-4, Portland, Ore., Pepperdine University)
18 – Molly Kreklow (S, 5-9, Delano, Minn., University of Missouri)
20 – Cursty Jackson (MB, 6-2, Los Angeles, Calif., University of Arizona)
21 – Tori Dixon (MB, 6-3, Burnsville, Minn., University of Minnesota)
23 – Kelsey Robinson (OH, 6-2, Bartlett, Ill., University of Nebraska)
24 – Krista Vansant (OH, 6-2, Redlands, Calif., University of Washington)
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: Rob Browning
Athletic Trainer: Jill Wosmek
Team Doctors: Dr. William Briner, Jr., and Lori Boyajian-O’Neill

2015 FIVB World Grand Prix Preliminary Round Schedule for Team USA

Pool C – Ankara, Turkey
July 3: USA def. Italy 25-27, 25-21, 25-22, 25-23
July 4: USA def. Turkey 25-20, 17-25, 25-16, 25-21
July 5: USA def. Belgium 25-19, 25-20, 25-18

Pool F – Kalingrad, Russia
July 10: USA vs. Russia, 10:10 a.m. PT
July 11: USA vs. Turkey, 7:40 a.m. PT
July 12: USA vs. Serbia, 7:40 a.m. PT

Pool – Hong Kong
July 16: USA vs. Japan, 3:30 a.m.
July 17: USA vs. Thailand, 3:30 a.m.
July 18: USA vs. China, 4:30 a.m.

FIVB World Grand Prix Finals
July 22-26 at Omaha, Nebraska
Top 5 teams from preliminary round plus host USA