U.S. Women Edge Serbia to Stay Undefeated

By Bill Kauffman | July 12, 2015, 1:45 p.m. (ET)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (July 12, 2015) – Karsta Lowe (Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.) scored a team-high 19 points as the U.S. Women’s National Team remained undefeated in FIVB World Grand Prix action with a 25-18, 24-26, 30-28, 19-25, 15-9 victory over Serbia in Kaliningrad, Russia.

Team USA (6-0, 17 points), ranked No. 1 in the world by the FIVB, 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. The U.S. and China split four matches in the USA Volleyball Cup last month after the Americans defeated the Chinese in the 2014 FIVB World Championship gold-medal match last October in Italy.

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. Brazil and China have already qualified for the Finals with both having 6-0 records and 18 points heading into the final preliminary round weekend.

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Lowe was one of five Americans in double-digit scoring. She totaled 17 kills on 37 attacks, one block and one ace for her 19 points. Kim Hill (Portland, Ore.) contributed 15 points via 13 kills on 39 swings, one block and one ace. Tori Dixon (Burnsville, Minn.) charted a match-high seven blocks to go with six kills on 17 attacks and an ace for 14 points.

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Megan Easy (Durham, N.C.) collected 11 points, all on kills on 28 attacks. Lauren Gibbemeyer (St. Paul, Minn.) added five kills on 11 attacks, four blocks and an ace for 10 points.

"I got to give Tori Dixon and Lauren Gibbemeyer a lot of credit tonight,” U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly said. “They were extremely solid at the net, leading our block and quick attack. Kelsey Robinson came in and did a nice job giving us some fire down the stretch along with lots of our other players. It was a great team effort."

"I thought especially Tori had a great blocking night," Gibbemeyer said. "We really followed the game plan. We studied the hitters and I think we executed well. We got really good touches, which allowed us to be aggressive on our counter attack. Serbia played with a lot of different personnel. I think it starts with a good serve and getting them out of system. We have been working on blocking and putting up a better block out of system, and that helps us immensely."

Nicole Fawcett (Zanesfield, Ohio) and Kelsey Robinson (Bartlett, Ill.) scored four points as reserves in the match. Molly Kreklow (Delano, Minn.), now 5-0 as the starting setter in the World Grand Prix, added two aces to round out the scoring.

"Coming into the match, it was kind of our game plan to get some tough serves on their passers," Kreklow said. "I think we knew we had to do that to get them out of system and help our defense. I was just trying to be in an aggressive mindset and go after it."

Kreklow was credited with nine running sets on 90 set attempts leading Team USA to a 39.6 kill percent and .228 hitting efficiency (59-25-149). Libero Kayla Banwarth (Dubuque, Iowa) contributed six digs and three excellent receptions on 10 chances. Robinson, who started just the fifth set, added three digs.

"The middles did a really good job,” Kreklow said. “We came out trying to get them the ball. We thought we had a good matchup there. Gibbemeyer and Tori both did a good job transitioning and being available for us on the gap and on the tight quick. They opened up a lot of space for the other hitters, which did a good job on the transition and hitting against some good double and triple blocks. Karsta and Nicole did some good job on the opposite, taking some good hard swings."

The Americans held a 59-50 advantage in kills to offset Serbia’s margins in blocks (16-14) and aces (8-6). Team USA held Serbia to a 33.1 kill percent and .166 hitting efficiency (50-25-151). Both teams committed an abundance of errors with Serbia having 34 to USA’s 32.

"We had a really tough battle against Serbia, and that is no shocker at all,” Kiraly said. “That is a very good volleyball team - a great men's and women's program with an amazingly strong number of players for such a small country. They do some wonderful things in terms of talent development for a country much smaller in population than such as the United States. And we could see that. They made lots of changes in the match, upgraded their serve reception. They can play with either of two setters, either of two opposites any of their middles or five outsides. They are a tough combination. I am glad they pushed us to our limit and made us better and battle right through the fifth."

Serbia’s Tijana Boskovic scored a team-high 12 points as 11 players scored at least two points. Jovana Stevanovic was the only player to start more than three sets, and she tallied nine points in five sets started.

"I think this was a really good test this weekend,” Gibbemeyer said of the wins over Russia, Turkey and Serbia this weekend in Russia. “The teams pushed us. Turkey pushed us even more than the first match in my opinion. I am grateful that Russia had a really great crowd against us in Russia, and had us play with some adversity. Overall, I am happy that we came out with three wins and were tested."

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.

After a video challenge reversed the opening point of the match, Team USA went on a 7-0 run on Kreklow’s serve with four points from Dixon to take a 7-1 advantage. Serbia inched back to within three at 20-17, but was unable to get closer as the U.S. closed on a 5-1 run for a 25-18 win with Lowe scoring six first set points.

Similar to the first set, Serbia scored the opening point of set two only to have Team USA go on a run to take a 5-1 lead on Hill’s serve. Serbia charged back to take a 16-13 lead on a 5-0 run. The Americans answered with a 5-1 run including two blocks and a Dixon ace to go back in front 18-17. Team USA led 24-22, but Serbia saved three set point chances and went on to win 26-24 on a 4-0 run.

Serbia continued the momentum into the third set with an 11-7 advantage, but Team USA charged back to tie the score at 11-all on Kreklow’s serve. Easy scored consecutive kills in a 4-0 run that yielded a 15-13 American lead. The U.S. broke a 16-all tie and gathered a 21-18 advantage with five of the next seven points, but Serbia answered with five straight points to retake the lead at 23-21. The U.S. knotted the score at 23-all on consecutive Serbia errors, then Lowe put up a block to give the Americans a set point at 24-23. The U.S. won the set 30-28 on its sixth set point chance as a video challenge ruled a blocking error on Serbia.

Serbia took an 8-3 lead into the fourth set’s first technical timeout and jumped the lead to 16-7 at the second technical timeout. The U.S. cut a 20-10 deficit down in half at 22-17, but Serbia held on for a 25-19 victory.

The U.S. responded by breaking out to a 4-1 lead in the fifth set with four straight points with Dixon on the service line. Robinson scored consecutive kills to push the lead to 6-3 after Serbia scored consecutive points. Team USA extended its lead to 10-4 on a Fawcett kill and never let Serbia back into the match in winning 15-9.

2015 U.S. Women’s National Team Roster for FIVB World Grand Prix Week 1 and 2
# - 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 – Kaliningrad, Russia
July 10: USA def. Russia 25-22, 25-20, 25-19
July 11: USA def. Turkey 25-12, 25-19, 22-25, 25-21
July 12: USA def. Serbia 25-18, 24-26, 30-28, 19-25, 15-9

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

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

July 22: USA vs. TBA, 6 p.m. PT
July 23: USA vs. TBA, 6 p.m. PT
July 24: USA vs. TBA, 6 p.m. PT
July 25: USA vs. TBA, 6 p.m. PT
July 26: USA vs. TBA, 10 a.m. PT

FIVB World Grand Prix Group 1 Standings Through July 12
1 - China (6-0, 18 points) – remaining matches: THA, JPN, USA
2 - Brazil (6-0, 18 points) – remaining matches: RUS, BEL, ITA
3 - USA (6-0, 17 points) – remaining matches: JPN, THA, CHN
4 - Italy (4-2, 11 points) – remaining matches: BEL, RUS, BRA
5 - Russia (4-2, 11 points) – remaining matches: BRA, ITA, BEL
6 - Japan (3-3, 10 points) – remaining matches: USA, CHN, THA
7 - Thailand (3-3, 8 points) – remaining matches: CHN, USA, JPN
8 - Germany (2-4, 6 points) – remaining matches: DOM, TUR, SRB
9 - Serbia (1-5, 6 point) – remaining matches: TUR, DOM, GER
10 - Belgium (1-5, 3 points) – remaining matches: ITA, BRA, RUS
11 - Turkey (0-6, 0 points) – remaining matches: SRB, GER, DOM
12 - Dominican Republic (0-6, 0 points) – remaining matches: GER, SRB, TUR