Preview: U.S. Women Excited for VNL Final Six

By Bill Kauffman (bill.kauffman@usav.org) | June 22, 2018, 4:55 p.m. (ET)

Michelle Bartsch-Hackley attacking during FIVB Volleyball Nations League preliminary round
Michelle Bartsch-Hackley, who scored 192 points during the FIVB Volleyball Nations preliminary round, leads U.S. Women in scoring heading into the Final Six

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (June 22, 2018) – The U.S. Women’s National Team finished atop the inaugural FIVB Volleyball Nations League preliminary round standings with an impressive 13-2 record over five grueling weeks. The Americans competed in five different countries and on three continents during the preliminary round.

Now, Team USA takes another step forward in its development as it takes part in the Volleyball Nations League Final Six June 27 to July 1 in Nanjing, China. The VNL Final Six has the top five teams from the preliminary round, plus host China playing in two pools of three teams.

The second-seeded Americans (13-2, 40 points) will face sixth-seeded Turkey (11-4, 35 points) on June 27 at 3 a.m. ET followed by third-seeded Serbia (12-3, 37 points) on June 29 at 3 a.m. ET. Ironically, Turkey and Serbia are the only teams to defeat the Americans in the preliminary round.

Related: U.S. Women's National Team Home Page | U.S. Women's 2018 Schedule/Results/Match Stats

“We certainly had some weaknesses exposed during our Turkey and Serbia,” U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly said. “Against Turkey, we learned that we needed to stabilize some things in serve-receive, and to continue to emphasize some new, less comfortable offensive routes. Against Serbia, neither team was at its best after their long travel to Argentina. The main takeaway from that loss was that we have to make improvements in defending out-of-system players. Bottom line: we are excited to have a chance to play the two teams that beat us in 15-match schedule.”

China (7-8, 22 points), the top seed as hosts, will face fourth-seeded Brazil (12-3, 35 points) and fifth-seeded Netherlands (12-3, 34 points) in its pool.

The VNL semifinals will have pool winners facing the opposing pool’s second-place team on June 30. Medal round matches are set for July 1.

Team USA will make one change to its roster for the VNL Final Six as outside hitter Madi Kingdon Rishel (Phoenix, Arizona) will replace Sarah Wilhite (Eden Prairie, Minnesota) on the 14-player roster.

While the Team USA roster has remained consistent from the opening week to the Final Six round with just two changes total, the same cannot be said for the personnel on the court for each match. Kiraly penciled in 12 different starting lineup during the 15-match preliminary round.

Carli Lloyd sets Foluke Akinradewo in FIVB Volleyball Nations League preliminary round“Being able to play at a high level with so many different lineups speaks really well to the depth we are blessed with,” Kiraly said on the various lineups he has put on the court. “We feel comfortable competing with any two middles, any of our three main outsides and either opposite, all hitting off Carli and passing with Kelsey, plus running the double sub with Micha and whichever opposite isn’t starting. We are extremely fortunate to be able to play so many different lineups, to conserve energy in a long five-week, 15-match series and to have chances to learn more about our personnel.”

Team USA struggled early in the VNL, having just a couple training days with the full team available before traveling to Lincoln, Nebraska. After splitting their first two matches on home soil, the Americans made a major switch to the lineup that resulted in a 10-match win streak with wins over Final Six participants Brazil, China and the Netherlands.

“We did struggle a little bit in Lincoln,” Kiraly said. “The big part of the turnaround was stabilizing our serve reception, as Kelsey switched positions to libero. She has really embraced the role, and is diving into it and taking great pride in making us better in a new position. We are very grateful for that.”

Related: 2018 U.S. Women's National Team Cumulative Stats

Bartsch-Hackley was Team USA’s leading scorer during the 15-match preliminary round. She tallied 165 kills, 12 blocks and 15 aces for 192 points for 10th place in the VNL rankings. Bartsch-Hackley converted 47.97 percent of her attacks for points, ranking second in Best Spiker. She held a .387 hitting efficiency (165-32-344). Bartsch-Hackley ranked sixth in Best Server with a 0.30 ace average (15) over USA sets played.

“Bartschy has been a force, and that comes as no surprise to anyone who knows her game,” Kiraly said. “She has a big arm, and when she is playing around other strong players – Carli, the middles, the opposites and people like Jordan and Kim – she has a real chance to shine. She is doing a great job and contributing in lots of areas, including being very efficient at the service line. She had a nice run to finish the China match. We were down 20-15, sided out once, she terminated to earn the service back, then served nine straight points to end that match.”

Robinson, who started the final 13 matches at libero, averaged 1.88 digs per set (94) of USA competition to rank fourth in Best Digger. She ranked third in Best Receiver with a 19.67 efficiency percent, handling 239 receptions with 63 excellent passes.

Lloyd, who started all 15 VNL preliminary matches, averaged 16.89 running sets per set for second in Best Setter. She ranked sixth in Best Digger with 1.60 digs per set

Larson ranked 33rd in scoring with 129 points (101 kills, 14 blocks and 14 aces), followed closely behind by Hill with 126 points (110 kills, 9 blocks, 7 aces) for 36th place. Hill led all receivers with a 22.32 receiving efficiency, handling 233 receptions with 61 excellent passes.

Gibbemeyer averaged 0.52 blocks per set (26 blocks) of USA competition for 11th place in Best Blocker. Rachael Adams ranked 25th in Best Blocker with a 0.38 block average (19) of USA sets played.

Larson ranked 10th in Best Server with a 0.28 ace average (14) in USA sets played. Hill ranked 20th in Best Spiker with a 37.40 kill percent and .256 hitting efficiency.

U.S. Women’s National Team Roster for FIVB Volleyball Nations League Final Six
# - Player (Position, Height, College, Hometown)
1 – Micha Hancock (S, 5-11, Penn State, Edmond, Oklahoma)
3 – Carli Lloyd (S, 5-11, California, Bonsall, California)
4 – Justine Wong-Orantes (L, 5-6, Nebraska, Cypress, California)
5 – Rachael Adams (M, 6-2, Texas, Cincinnati, Ohio)
6 – Tori Dixon (M, 6-3, Minnesota, Burnsville, Minnesota)
8 – Lauren Gibbemeyer (M, 6-2, Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota)
9 – Madi Kingdon Rishel (OH, 6-1, Arizona, Phoenix, Arizona)
10 – Jordan Larson (OH, 6-2, Nebraska, Hooper, Nebraska)
11 – Annie Drews (OPP, 6-4, Purdue, Elkhart, Indiana)
12 – Kelly Murphy (OPP, 6-2, Florida, Wilmington, Illinois)
14 – Michelle Bartsch-Hackley (OH, 6-3, Illinois, Champaign, Illinois)
15 – Kim Hill (OH, 6-4, Pepperdine, Portland, Oregon)
16 – Foluke Akinradewo (M, 6-3, Stanford, Fort Lauderdale, Florida)
23 – Kelsey Robinson (L, 6-2, Nebraska, Manhattan Beach, California)

Head Coach: Karch Kiraly
Assistant Coaches: Luka Slabe, Tama Miyashiro, Erin Virtue
Technical Coordinator: Jeff Liu
Athletic Trainer: Kara Kessans
Team Manager: Jimmy Stitz

Women’s FIVB Volleyball Nations League Preliminary Round Results

U.S. Women’s Schedule for FIVB Volleyball Nations League Preliminary Round
May 15: USA def. Poland 28-26, 25-22, 22-25, 25-15 (at Lincoln, Nebraska)
May 16: USA lost to Turkey 28-26, 25-19, 20-25, 24-26, 16-14 (at Lincoln, Nebraska)
May 17: USA def. Italy 25-21, 25-18, 25-21 (at Lincoln, Nebraska)
May 22: USA def. Japan 25-20, 25-16, 25-23 (at Toyota, Japan)
May 23: USA def. Netherlands 25-19, 25-21, 25-23 (at Toyota, Japan)
May 24: USA def. Belgium 25-11, 25-17, 25-18 (at Toyota, Japan)
May 29: USA def. Germany 25-18, 25-17, 25-17 (at Bangkok, Thailand)
May 30: USA def. Dominican Republic 25-20, 25-23, 25-21 (at Bangkok, Thailand)
May 31: USA def. Thailand 25-10, 25-22, 25-16 (at Bangkok, Thailand)
June 5: USA def. Russia 25-14, 25-18, 25-18 (at Jiangmen, China)
June 6: USA def. Brazil 25-23, 26-28, 25-21, 25-18 (at Jiangmen, China)
June 7: USA def. China 25-20, 25-22, 25-20 (at Jiangmen, China)
June 12: USA lost to Serbia 30-28, 23-25, 25-20, 25-18 (at Santa Fe, Argentina)
June 13: USA def. Korea 25-13, 25-23, 25-19 (at Santa Fe, Argentina)
June 14: USA def. Argentina 25-15, 25-14, 25-15 (at Santa Fe, Argentina)

FIVB Volleyball Nations League Final Six at Nanjing, China

Pool A
June 27: China vs. Netherlands, 7:15 a.m. ET
June 28: Brazil vs. Netherlands, 5:15 a.m. ET
June 29: China vs. Brazil, 8:30 a.m. ET

Pool B
June 27: USA vs. Turkey, 3 a.m. ET
June 28: Serbia vs. Turkey, 3 a.m. ET
June 29: USA vs. Serbia, 3 a.m. ET

Semifinals
June 30: Pool A Winner vs. Pool B 2nd Place, 3 a.m. ET
June 30: Pool B Winner vs. Pool A 2nd Place, 7:45 a.m. ET

Medal Rounds
July 1: Bronze-Medal Match, 3 a.m. ET
July 1: Gold-Medal Match, 7 a.m. ET