U.S. Women Top Thailand, Still Undefeated in WGP

By Bill Kauffman | July 17, 2015, 9:13 a.m. (ET)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (July 17, 2015) – Karsta Lowe (Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.) scored a match-high 24 points to pace the U.S. Women’s National Team to a 25-21, 25-18, 23-25, 25-16 victory over Thailand on Friday in the FIVB World Grand Prix preliminary round in Hong Kong.

Team USA (8-0, 23 points), ranked No. 1 in the world by the FIVB, concludes the World Grand Prix preliminary round in a battle of undefeated teams when it faces China at 4:30 a.m. PT on Saturday. China defeated Japan on Friday to improve to 8-0 with a perfect 24 points.

After leaving Hong Kong, the United States will host the six-team FIVB World Grand Prix Finals 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, which is the premier annual international women’s volleyball tournament. The tournament winner receives $200,000 of the overall $2.98 million purse that includes payouts through the preliminary phase.

Both China and No. 2 Brazil have already qualified for the six-team Final Round field along with USA. All three are currently undefeated in the preliminary round. Today Italy (5-3, 14 points) and Russia (5-3, 14 points) earned their tickets to home, leaving just one spot remaining with Serbia currently hold the sixth position and needing just to defeat Germany on Saturday. A German win could push them into the Finals depending on the Japan versus Thailand result as all four countries are 3-5 with points ranging from 12 to 8.

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Setter Molly Kreklow (Delano, Minn.) distributed the ball well against Thailand to allow for a balanced American offense that had all five starting hitters reach double-figure scoring. Lowe, getting the start at opposite, collected 21 kills on 32 attacks, two blocks and an ace for her 24 points. Middle blocker Lauren Gibbemeyer (St. Paul, Minn.) picked up 10 kills on 21 attacks and five blocks for 15 points.

“We are always impressed when we play Thailand,” U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly said. “They make us work so hard to earn every point. They are a team that is easy to like and easy to cheer for. They do not have the tallest players or the biggest, strongest players. But they get a lot out of what they have. They have a lot to be proud of. They make their opponents have to really work, and we really love to have to work. It is an honor to play Thailand, and I wish them great success.”

Outside hitter Kelsey Robinson (Bartlett, Ill.) pocketed 15 points with 11 kills on 30 swings, three blocks and an ace. Middle blocker Tori Dixon (Burnsville, Minn.) added 11 points with eight kills on 17 attacks and three blocks. Outside hitter Kim Hill (Portland, Ore.) charted 10 points with eight kills and two aces.

“Thailand is always a hard team to play because they run a lot of different combos and have people running routes from everywhere on the court,” Dixon said. “The big thing for us was that we watched a lot of film and our pin hitters did a good job of identifying it. We talked a lot at the net on hitter switches and just communicated a lot.”

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Kelly Murphy (Wilmington, Ill.) scored two kills and a block as part of the double-switch in her limited action in all four sets. Jordan Larson-Burbach (Hooper, Neb.), a serving specialist in all four sets, and Kreklow rounded out the scoring with an ace each.

Tama Miyashiro (Kaneohe, Hawaii), getting her second start at libero during the World Grand Prix, contributed a match-high 12 digs to go with six excellent receptions on 11 chances. Robinson was credited with 13 excellent receptions on 30 chances, while Hill had 11 excellent receptions on a team-best 34 chances. Robinson added six digs in the victory.

“We scouted Thailand a bunch and so we had a pretty good idea where the hitters like to hit,” Miyashiro said. “So if I can get set up before they are actually setting the hitters, I put myself in a really good position to dig a lot of balls. It is fun to play defense against an offense like that. It really tests your patience and eye work.”

Kreklow was credited with 30 running sets on 95 set attempts, while double-sub Courtney Thompson (Kent, Wash.) added five running sets in her limited action as a reserve in all four sets.

Team USA converted 43.2 percent of its attacks into points with a .360 hitting efficiency (60-10-139). The U.S. out-blocked Thailand 14-5 and held a slim 6-5 margin in aces. The Americans recorded a 60-47 advantage in kills during the victory. The U.S. held Thailand to a 33.6 kill percent and a .143 hitting efficiency (47-22-140).

“Thailand is a pretty small team. It is no small secret. They know it, we know it. They are a very sound technically. We just needed to keep hitting high, because it may look like we have the whole net open, but they will pop hands up and get a lot of good touches. We have to take it and keep swinging high and aiming for the back third of the court.”

Onuma Sittirak led Thailand with 15 points, while Wilavan Apinyapong added 12 points.

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.

Thailand picked up an early 10-8 lead in the first set on a 3-0 run, only to have the USA regain the lead at 12-11 on a Lowe kill. Thailand went back in front 16-14 on another 3-0 run that included consecutive aces by Hattaya Bamrungsuk. Thailand increased its advantage to 21-17, but the Asian squad would not score again in the set. The U.S. scored the final eight points of the set that included two aces from Hill, a block and kill from Dixon and key kill from Robinson.

After Thailand started the second set leading 3-1, the Americans put up the next four points to gain a 5-3 advantage. Team USA doubled up its advantage at 10-5 with a Thailand error and Robinson ace prompting Thailand to call timeout. Lowe slammed back-to-back points to lift the Americans in front 15-8. Larson-Burbach came off the bench score an ace to increase the American lead to 17-9. Team USA finished set at 25-18 on Lowe’s 11th point of the match.

Set three was close in the early. After Thailand took a 13-11 lead, the U.S. came back to level the score at 13-all with two quick points. However, Thailand answered with a 4-1 run to stake itself to a 17-14 advantage. Gibbemeyer responded with an overpass kill and block to cut the American deficit to one at 17-16. Team USA tied the set at 22-all on consecutive swings from Lowe and Robinson leading to a Thailand timeout. Thailand earned its first set point at 24-22 on an American attack error and then won the set 25-23 on a U.S. service error.

The U.S. took a 9-5 advantage in the fourth set after Gibbemeyer scored a block and kill on consecutive plays on each side of the first technical timeout. Dixon, Robinson and Gibbemeyer hit consecutive kills and Thailand wide to lift the Americans in front 16-9 at the second technical timeout. Team USA was never challenge the rest of the set as it won 25-16.

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 def. Thailand 25-21, 18-25, 25-23, 25-16
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 17)
1 - China (8-0, 24 points) – remaining matches: USA
2 - Brazil (8-0, 24 points) – remaining matches: ITA
3 - USA (8-0, 23 points) – remaining matches: CHN
4 - Italy (5-3, 14 points) – remaining matches: BRA
5 - Russia (5-3, 14 points) – remaining matches: BEL
6 - Serbia (3-5, 12 point) – remaining matches: GER
7 - Japan (3-5, 10 points) – remaining matches: THA
8 - Germany (3-5, 10 points) – remaining matches: SRB
9 - Thailand (3-5, 8 points) – remaining matches: JPN
10 - Belgium (1-7, 3 points) – remaining matches: RUS
11 - Turkey (1-7, 2 points) – remaining matches: DOM
12 - Dominican Republic (0-8, 0 points) – remaining matches: TUR