NAGOYA, Japan (Sept. 2, 2015) – Two berths into the 2016 Olympic Games women’s volleyball event are at stake this weekend in Nagoya, Japan, as the FIVB World Cup comes to a close with three important match days looming for the U.S. Women’s National Team.
Team USA, ranked number-one in the world and reigning world champion, has bounced back from a loss in the second match of the World Cup to lead the standings that has four teams all with 7-1 records heading into the third round this weekend in Nagoya and nearby Komaki, Japan. Of the quartet at 7-1, the Americans lead the race with 22 points (3-0 and 3-1 wins get three points, 3-2 win gets two points and 3-2 loss gets one point). Russia and China both have 21 points, while Serbia has 18 points.
The U.S. plays Russia on Friday at 2:10 a.m. ET in a battle of one versus two. The team that loses will likely be left out of the coveted top two spots for an Olympic bid from the World Cup. Team USA then faces host Japan, which is in fifth place with a 6-2 record and 19 points, on Saturday at 6:20 a.m. ET. The Americans wrap up the World Cup on Sunday at 2:10 a.m. ET against NORCECA rival Dominican Republic, which is in sixth place with a 4-4 record and 13 points.
“We know it will be a challenging weekend of opponents,” U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly said. “There are lots of teams that are close (in the standings), but we can’t worry about them. The only thing we can think about is how to play as hard as we can and how to play smart volleyball for one point and then another point against Russia.”
Other key matches this weekend involve Russia playing China in a two versus three battle on Saturday and China versus Japan to conclude the tournament on Sunday. Serbia, though in fourth place, could move into the top two spots or even win the tournament should USA, Russia and China slip up once. The Serbians have by far the easiest trek over the last three matches with ninth-place Cuba on Friday, 10th-place Kenya on Saturday and seventh-place Argentina on Sunday.
Since capturing its first-ever FIVB World Championship title last October, Team USA competed in three tournaments before the World Cup all with the same golden results. The Americans won their sixth FIVB World Grand Prix title having gone 5-0 in the Final Round that had a field of six of the top seven teams in the world. At the same time, a second USA squad captured the Pan American Games crown with a sweep over Brazil. USA had not won the Pan Am Games since 1967.
Team USA set a couple firsts in the process – first team to win the title on home soil in the 23-year history of the World Grand Prix and first team to win the World Grand Prix in the same calendar year after winning the World Championship. The U.S. is now on pace to win an unprecedented 12-month calendar FIVB Triple Crown that would include World Championship, World Grand Prix and World Cup.
But first things, first. Russia, Japan and Dominican Republic are all formidable opponents that the U.S. must defeat to have a realistic chance at the title. U.S. setter Alisha Glass (Leland, Mich.) said Team USA is excited to face its final three opponents.
“Every one of those matches is going to be one that we will have to bring our A-game,” Glass said. “I think we are excited for them. That is what World Cup is all about – play good teams and good competition and hopefully we will come out with some wins.”
Russia is a familiar foe to the Americans this year. Team USA defeated its European nemesis during the FIVB World Grand Prix preliminary round in Russia and in the Final Round in Omaha. The Americans won the World Grand Prix title and Russia finished second.
“(Russia) wants to win this tournament,” Glass said. “They are a good team and they brought one player that they did not have at World Grand Prix.”
According to U.S. outside hitter Jordan Larson-Burbach (Hooper, Neb.), Russia presents some challenges to the American defense.
“Russia has a couple strong hitters and good out-of-system hitters,” Larson-Burbach said. “So we have to do a good job managing those. I feel like if we can control our side, we can do a good job of managing the game.”
With both teams have familiarity with each other’s game, Glass sees a USA-Russia being a battle from the start.
“Absolutely, it gives you more information,” Glass said. “But they have seen us and they have the same advantage in knowing what we will do. I think it will be a close match, and it will go back-and-forth. I am excited for it.”
With three important matches left on the schedule, Team USA is not looking ahead past the next point on Friday against Russia.
“We are just focusing on Russia now, one match at time,” Larson-Burbach said. “Then Japan and Dominican Republic after that.”
To get this point stage of the World Cup, Team USA has improved its game along the way. The U.S. opened with a sweep of Korea on Aug. 22, but found itself on the wrong side of the ledger against Serbia in a five-set loss after leading 2-1.
The Americans dug deep knowing another loss could derail the title chase and ultimately Olympic Games berths being handed out in Japan at the World Cup. The U.S. won a tight three-set match (25-23, 25-17, 25-23) against third-ranked China on Aug. 24 and has gone on to win six straight matches in straight sets to arrive in Nagoya. Other victories have come against Peru, Algeria, Kenya, Argentina and Cuba.
“For the eight matches so far, I think our team – all 14 of our players and all our staff – have been doing nice work,” Kiraly said. “We know what we need to do and we’re executing our job, so that is good. We have some very difficult matches coming up. Our focus going forward is how to score the next point a lot against Russia.”
Larson-Burbach feels that Team USA has done a good job of managing the situation of coming back from the loss.
“I thought they were pretty good teams,” Larson-Burbach said. “I thought we did a good job of managing. I think the first three were stronger than the last have been. I feel like we have been steady throughout. I just hope we can finish strong.”
FIVB World Cup Standings and Remaining Matches - Detailed Standings
1 - USA (7-1, 22 points) – 9/4 vs. Russia; 9/5 vs. Japan; 9/6 vs. Dominican Republic
2 - Russia (7-1, 21 points) – 9/4 vs. USA; 9/5 vs. China; 9/6 vs. Algeria
3 - China (7-1, 21 points) – 9/4 vs. Dominican Republic; 9/5 vs. Russia; 9/6 vs. Japan
4 - Serbia (7-1, 18 points) – 9/4 vs. Cuba; 9/5 vs. Kenya; 9/6 vs. Argentina
5 - Japan (6-2, 19 points) – 9/4 vs. Algeria; 9/5 vs. USA; 9/6 vs. China
6 - Dominican Republic (4-4, 13 points) – 9/4 vs. China; 9/5 vs. Algeria; 9/6 vs. USA
7 - Argentina (3-5, 9 points) – 9/4 vs. Peru; 9/5 vs. Korea; 9/6 vs. Serbia
8 - Korea (3-5, 9 points) – 9/4 vs. Kenya; 9/5 vs. Argentina; 9/6 vs. Cuba
9 - Cuba (2-6, 6 points) – 9/4 vs. Serbia; 9/5 vs. Peru; 9/6 vs. Korea
10 - Kenya (1-7, 3 points) – 9/4 vs. Korea; 9/5 vs. Serbia; 9/6 vs. Peru
11 - Peru (1-7, 3 points) – 9/4 vs. Argentina; 9/5 vs. Cuba; 9/6 vs. Kenya
12 - Algeria (0-8, 0 points) – 9/4 vs. Japan; 9/5 vs. Dominican Republic; 9/6 vs. Russia
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 def. Argentina 25-16, 25-19, 25-14
Sept. 1: USA def. Cuba 25-15, 25-11, 25-15
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)