U.S. Women Sweep Japan to Stay Undefeated

By Bill Kauffman | July 16, 2015, 10:42 a.m. (ET)


Kayla Banwarth gets the pancake dig and the U.S. Women scored a 3-0 victory over Japan

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (July 16, 2015) – The U.S. Women’s National Team remains undefeated in the FIVB World Grand Prix after defeating No. 5 Japan 25-23, 25-22, 26-24 Thursday in Hong Kong.

Outside hitter Kim Hill (Portland, Ore.) led Team USA’s offense with a match-high 15 points including six aces – four coming in one stretch leading a comeback in the third set. She converted nine of her 16 attacks into kills on offense, while adding 15 excellent receptions on 38 total attempts.

“I have been really working on trying to keep the serve low and flat and with good contact,” Hill said. “I have gotten a hang of having a good contact over the last two or three years. A big thing for me is to have a mentality going back to serve and picking out a specific target that I want to hit, whether in front of the passer or deep.”

Team USA (7-0, 20 points), ranked No. 1 in the world by the FIVB, returns to action on Friday against No. 12 Thailand before concluding the World Grand prix preliminary round against No. 3 China on July 18. Team USA hosts the FIVB World Grand Prix Finals July 22-26 in Omaha, Neb.

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“We do know that we are moving on to the Final Round because we are the host, but we are still trying to win as many points as possible,” U.S. Women's National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly said. “We know that everyone starts from zero starting in the Finals.”

Both China and No. 2 Brazil have already qualified for the six-team field along with USA, and the final three places being determined this weekend. This year marks the first time that the U.S. will host the Finals in the 23-year history of the event, which is the premier annual international women’s volleyball tournament.

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Middle blocker Christa Dietzen (Hopewell Township, Pa.) totaled eight kills on 17 errorless swings, three blocks and an ace for 12 points in the victory. Opposite Kelly Murphy (Wilmington, Ill.) contributed 10 kills on 29 attacks and a block for 11 points. Middle blocker Foluke Akinradewo (Plantation, Fla.) tacked on eight kills on 20 attacks and a block for nine points. Jordan Larson-Burbach (Hooper, Neb.) collected three kills and two blocks for five points in the victory. Dietzen, Murphy, Akinradewo and Larson-Burbach were added to the active roster for this weekend’s matches in Hong Kong.

“Japan is a fantastic defensive team. Often times they push way up into the court," Dietzen said. "So when you are trying to bounce balls, then they are usually there to take them whether off the chest or shoulders. We were focused on hitting the deep third of the court and we did that, they struggled with their defensive game.”

Karsta Lowe (Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.) tallied four kills on 10 attacks all as part of the double-switch coming off the bench in all three sets. Setter Molly Kreklow (Delano, Minn.) produced two blocks in the victory. Rounding out the scoring were Kelsey Robinson (Bartlett, Ill.) and Courtney Thompson (Kent, Wash.), who both had an ace.

Libero Kayla Banwarth (Dubuque, Iowa) led the back row with a team-high nine digs to go with six excellent receptions on 11 attempts. Larson-Burbach added seven digs in the match.

“We think of all 14 of our players as incredibly important and it is a total team effort,” Kiraly said. “Some players did not get to play at all tonight, and they still played an important role in helping their teammates be good on the court. That is important part of who we are.”

Kreklow was credited with 18 running sets on 83 total set attempts as she led the American offense to a 33.3 kill percent and .254 hitting efficiency (42-10-126).

Team USA’s serve produced a 9-4 advantage in aces and the Americans had only three service errors. The U.S. held a 9-6 advantage in blocks to help offset Japan’s 47-42 margin in kills. Team USA held Japan to a 35.9 kill percent and .221 hitting efficiency (47-18-131).

“It is always a great honor for us to compete against a legendary team with Japan, one of the all-time great programs,” Kiraly said. “We always learn when we play against them. They have a great fighting spirit. They never give up and pursue every ball and play great defense. There always things we can learn from them to get better for tomorrow.”

Japan’s Sarina Koga led her squad with 13 points, while Miyu Nagaoka added 12 and Haruyo Shimamura followed with 10.

The U.S. Women’s attention now turns to two other big matches this weekend with Thailand and China.

“We just have to try to learn from tonight and move on as quickly as we can tomorrow,” Murphy said. “We have two really tough matches coming, so being as focused as possible on each team is really important.”

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.

“We just talked about staying patient,” Murphy said about how Team USA handled Japan’s defensive exploits. “There were a lot of long rallies. In the huddle we just talked about how we were going to win the next point. I just trusted my teammates that they would step and perform, and they did. I thought we did a really good job fighting through set two even if we weren’t playing great. In set three we just came out and decided we wanted to finish it. Toward the end it was a team effort and everybody did their part.”

The U.S. took an 8-6 lead into the opening set’s first technical timeout on a 3-0 run including an ace from Hill. Murphy and Dietzen scored a block and kill on both sides of the second technical timeout to expand the American lead to 17-12. Japan sliced a 19-13 deficit down to 19-18 with two aces by Shimamura and two American attack errors in a 5-0 run. After a service error, Robinson served an ace and Larson-Burbach blocked an attack to lift the U.S. in front 22-18. Japan saved three set points before Team USA ended the set at 25-23 with a Lowe kill.

The second set was a battle of swinging momentums. Japan went on a 6-1 run to take an 8-6 lead into the first technical timeout. Team USA answered with a 3-0 run with a Murphy kill and Dietzen ace to take the lead back at 9-8, but Japan switched the lead again with four unanswered points at 13-10. Akinradewo slammed back-to-back kills keying a 5-0 American run forcing Japan to call timeout trailing 15-13, yet it was Japan that was ahead at the second technical timeout 16-15 on a 3-0 run. Team USA scored the first two points out of the break to resume a 17-16 advantage and Hill served an ace to increase the cushion to two at 20-18. Japan saved two set points before Team USA capped the match with a Lowe kill at 25-22.

After trailing 8-6 at the first technical timeout in the third set, Team USA used a 4-0 run on Thompson’s serve to net a 10-6 advantage. However, came back with an 11-3 run to take a 17-13 advantage. Hill served four consecutive aces after a Dietzen kill to yield a 19-18 American advantage. Japan answered with five straight points at 24-21. Team USA saved three set points to square the set at 24-all, then earned a match point after a Japan attack went long at 25-24. Akinradewo ended the set with a block at 26-24 as the Americans won the final four points of the match.

“The serving run came in a pretty opportune moment when we were down three or four points," Hill said. "All I was thinking was we had to get back in this set and hit a good serve because teams like Japan when they are running a lot of combinations, you just need to get a good serve in and disrupt that. That was kind of my main focus, and luckily the ball dropped at the right time and flew at the right time to where they couldn’t handle it.”

2015 U.S. Women’s National Team Roster for FIVB World Grand Prix Week 3 and Finals Round
# - 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)
5 – Tama Miyashiro (L, 5-7, Kaneohe, Hawaii, University of Washington)
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, Durham, N.C., Penn State University)
12 – Kelly Murphy (OPP, 6-2, Wilmington, Ill., University of Florida)
13 – Christa Dietzen (MB, 6-2, Hopewell Township, Pa., Penn State University)
15 – Kim Hill (OH, 6-4, Portland, Ore., Pepperdine University)
16 – Foluke Akinradewo (MB, 6-3, Plantation, Fla., Stanford University)
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: 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 def. Japan 25-23, 25-22, 26-24
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

FIVB World Grand Prix Group 1 Standings (through July 16)
1 - China (7-0, 21 points) – remaining matches: JPN, USA
2 - Brazil (7-0, 21 points) – remaining matches: BEL, ITA
3 - USA (7-0, 20 points) – remaining matches: THA, CHN
4 - Italy (5-2, 14 points) – remaining matches: RUS, BRA
5 - Russia (4-3, 11 points) – remaining matches: ITA, BEL
6 - Japan (3-4, 10 points) – remaining matches: CHN, THA
7 - Germany (3-4, 9 points) – remaining matches: TUR, SRB
8 - Serbia (2-5, 9 point) – remaining matches: DOM, GER
9 - Thailand (3-4, 8 points) – remaining matches: USA, JPN
10 - Belgium (1-6, 3 points) – remaining matches: BRA, RUS
11 - Turkey (0-7, 0 points) – remaining matches: GER, DOM
12 - Dominican Republic (0-7, 0 points) – remaining matches: SRB, TUR