Previewing the U.S. Women's 2018 Season

By Bill Kauffman (bill.kauffman@usav.org) | May 03, 2018, 12:18 p.m. (ET)

Foluke Akinradewo, Jordan Larson and Rachael Adams during the National Anthem
Foluke Akinradewo, Jordan Larson and Rachael Adams are three of the seven 2018 U.S. Women's National Team members with Olympic experience.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (May 3, 2018) - The U.S. Women’s National Volleyball Team, ranked No. 2 in the world by the FIVB, enters the second year of the 2020 Olympic quadrennial with seven returning Olympians mixing with a handful of newer faces who found lots of playing time in 2017. U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly will bring in additional recent college grads into the USA gym for 2018 to provide depth and creating competition for positions on every tournament roster.

The 2018 roster has a core of seven Olympians in the form of three outside hitters (Jordan Larson, Kim Hill, Kelsey Robinson), two middles (Foluke Akinradewo, Rachael Adams), one opposite (Kelly Murphy) and one setter (Carli Lloyd). Adams, Akinradewo, Hill and Larson did not compete in the 2017 FIVB World Grand Prix, but made an impressive showing in the USA Volleyball Cup against Brazil and during Team USA’s bronze-medal run at the 2017 FIVB World Grand Champions Cup. Murphy paced the U.S. offense early in the season during the FIVB World Grand Prix before taking a break from the National Team to finish her college degree at the University of Florida.

Related: U.S. Women's National Team Page | FIVB Volleyball Nations League in Lincoln, Nebraska (May 15-17)

Lloyd was the only U.S. Olympian to play in both the World Grand Prix and the World Grand Champions Cup en route to being selected USA Volleyball’s Female Indoor Player of the Year. However, she missed some time during the Grand Champions Cup with an injury to her shoulder that required off-season surgery. Robinson was in the USA gym for most of 2017, but elected to not compete in tournaments.

As all seven Olympians took at least some time off from the National Team in 2017, rookies and second-year players gained valuable court experience in the first year of the Olympic quad around a few players who just missed out making the 2016 Olympic roster. Middle Tori Dixon returned from a 2016 season-ending ACL injury, while Lauren Gibbemeyer started several matches in the middle last year. Outside hitters Michelle Bartsch-Hackley, USA Volleyball’s Female Indoor Most Improved Player in 2017, and Madi Kingdon both showed they could add some points to the table.

Setters Lauren Carlini and Micha Hancock, outside hitter/libero Megan Courtney and libero Justine Wong-Orantes are all now moving into the third year with Team USA after solid seasons in 2017. Annie Drews turned in an impressive rookie season in 2017 at her opposite position, leading Team USA in scoring in eight of the 26 matches.

2018 Schedule

The U.S. Women will participate in three international tournaments in 2018. Team USA opens the season in the inaugural FIVB Volleyball Nations League (VNL) – an event that replaces the FIVB World Grand Prix. The VNL schedule has all 15 teams playing a five-week, round-robin preliminary schedule from May 15 to June 14. The VNL Final Round, scheduled for June 27 to July 1 in Nanjing, China, will take the top five teams from the preliminary phase plus host China.

The Americans will host its round of the VNL on May 15-17 at Lincoln, Nebraska. The U.S. challenges No. 7 Italy, No. 12 Turkey and No. 22 Poland at the Devaney Center on the University of Nebraska campus in the three-day pod. The U.S. Women has ties to the Nebraska Cornhusker program as two-time Olympian Jordan Larson played for the Huskers and grew up less than an hour from the school. In addition, 2016 Olympian Kelsey Robinson played her senior year with the Huskers. Amber Rolfzen and Justine Wong-Orantes, both products of the Nebraska program, were in Team USA’s gym during the 2016 season. For information on USA’s domestic VNL matches, click here.

The U.S. will then travel to Asia for three straight weeks of competition. The Americans face No. 6 Japan, No. 13 Belgium and No. 8 Netherlands May 22-24 in Toyota, Japan. Team USA challenges No. 16 Thailand, No. 9 Dominican Republic and No. 13 Germany in Bangkok, Thailand, from May 29-31. The fourth week will be a much-anticipated set of matches with the U.S. facing No. 1 China, No. 4 Brazil and No. 5 Russia in Jiangmen, China from June 5-7. The U.S. Women concludes the preliminary round June 12-14 in Santa Fe, Argentina, against No. 3 Serbia, No. 10 Korea and No. 11 Argentina.

The U.S. Women will also defend its Pan American Cup title won in 2017 when it travels to Dominican Republic for this year’s edition held July 6-15 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Aside from the USA and Dominican Republic, the 12-team field is expected to have Brazil, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Canada, Cuba, Colombia, Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago, Costa Rica and Peru.

Team USA concludes its season with the FIVB World Championship, the first triple crown event of the 2020 Olympic Games quadrennial. The U.S. is the defending World Champion after winning its first ever triple crown event at the 2014 FIVB World Championship in Italy. The Americans open their title defense in Kobe, Japan, as they face Azerbaijan, Trinidad & Tobago, Korea, Thailand and Russia in the first round from Sept. 29 to Oct. 4. The top four teams in each of the four six-team first-round pools advance to the second round held Oct. 7-11 in either Nagoya or Osaka, Japan. The top six teams advance to the third round held Oct. 14-16 in Nagoya. The semifinals and medal-round matches will be played Oct. 19-20 in Yokohama, Japan.

New Storylines for 2018

CAN THEY REPEAT: The U.S. won its first FIVB World Championship in 2014 since the competition began in 1952. Now Team USA has a target on its back as the defending champions of the event held every four years. The Americans begin their World Championship quest Sept. 29-Oct. 4 in Kobe, Japan, with first-round opponents Azerbaijan, Trinidad & Tobago, Korea, Thailand and Russia. The World Championship concludes Oct. 20 in Yokohoma.

GETTING THE OLYMPIANS BACK TOGETHER: All seven returning U.S. Olympians from the 2016 Rio Games took off some or all of 2017. At no point did they all play together last year. With other athletes receiving ample playing time to show how they can perform under tournament pressure, experience will not be in shortage in 2018 when blending the Olympians back into the fold with the younger roster.

BACK IN LINCOLN WHERE LARSON IS GOV: The U.S. Women’s National Team will be back in Lincoln, Nebraska, to start the season off in the inaugural FIVB Volleyball Nations League. The Americans will host Italy, Turkey and Poland on May 15-17 at the Devaney Center on the University of Nebraska campus. The trip will be a homecoming of sorts for possibly U.S. Women’s National Team players who played for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Jordan Larson, nicknamed the Gov for her prominence in the state of Nebraska, is from a town (Hooper, Nebraska) of fewer than 1,000 people less than an hour from Lincoln. Other past Cornhuskers who could be added to the U.S. roster for the Volleyball Nations League are Kelsey Robinson, Justine Wong-Orantes and Kadie Rolfzen.

SETTER COMPETITION HEATS UP: Three setters made a case for playing time in 2017, and all three proved their value to the team. Carli Lloyd, the backup setter at the 2016 Olympic Games, eventually was named the USA Volleyball Female Indoor Player of the Year after her steady year-long performance leading a young squad missing many of Olympians until late in the season. Micha Hancock led the U.S. Women to gold at the Pan American Cup and was named most valuable player, best setter and best server. Lauren Carlini, the 2016-17 Sullivan Award winner for best amateur athlete in any sport in the United States, received quality play time during the USA Volleyball Cup against Brazil and during the season-ending FIVB World Grand Champions Cup.

STILL IN SEARCH OF OLYMPIC GOLD: The U.S. Women’s National Team has been one of the most storied volleyball programs in the world, yet it has not come away with gold at the Olympic Games and has just one major title win – 2014 FIVB World Championship. The Americans have medaled in the last three Olympic Games, including falling to Brazil in the 2008 and 2012 gold-medal match and finishing with bronze in 2016.

MORE TWINS: The U.S. Women have two sets of twins on the roster this summer. Hannah and Paige Tapp (Stewartville, Minnesota) are middles in their second season with Team USA. Middle Amber Rolfzen and outside hitter Kadie Rolfzen (Papillion, Nebraska) are also in their second seasons with the program.

Other Story Starters for 2018

  • The U.S. Women have medaled in each of the last three Olympic Games, winning silver in 2008 and 2012 before finishing with bronze in 2016. The U.S. is the only country to have reached the podium in the last three Olympic Games, yet they have not yet reach the top step and won gold since volleyball entered the Olympic schedule in 1964.
  • The U.S. Women won the 2014 FIVB World Championship, a first major title for the program. The team will defend their World Championship title this fall in Japan. The World Championship, held every fourth year, is the first triple crown event of the Olympic quadrennial.
  • The U.S. Women will host the first week of the FIVB Volleyball Nations League May 15-17 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Team USA will face Italy, Turkey and Poland at the Devaney Center on the University of Nebraska campus. Click here for more details.
  • Head Coach Karch Kiraly, named “Player of the Century” by the FIVB, is the only person to win Olympic gold medals in both indoor (1984 and 1988) and beach volleyball (1996). After serving as an assistant with the U.S. Women during the 2009-2012 quad, he accepted the head job in September 2012. As head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team program, Kiraly has lead Team USA to a 144-32 record over the last five years.
  • Jordan Larson – a Nebraska legend, became an international star from a hometown of 830 population in Hooper, Nebraska … teammates call her ‘The Governor’ … two-time Olympian with silver in 2012 and bronze in 2016 … Earned back-to-back USA Volleyball Female Indoor Player of the Year in 2015 and 2016 … Returns to Nebraska this May to play in the inaugural FIVB Volleyball Nations League.
  • Kim Hill – almost did not attend a 2013 U.S. Women’s National Team Open Tryout thinking she was not good enough and came out of the tryout of 240 athletes earning a spot in the USA gym in May 2013. Within 21 months of the tryout was selected the most valuable player of the 2014 FIVB World Championship as the U.S. won its first triple crown title (Olympics, FIVB World Championship, FIVB World Cup). She was a starter at outside hitter on the bronze-medal winning U.S. Olympic Team in 2016.
  • Foluke Akinradewo – after her playing career is over, wants to pursue a career in the medical profession and she is already a certified EMT … holds tri-citizenship along with Canada and Nigeria … has made two Olympic Games rosters and selected to 2016 Olympic Dream Team at middle blocker.
  • Tori Dixon – overcame a heart surgery in 2013 prior to senior year at Minnesota … came back from ACL surgery in early 2016 to play again for the U.S. Women in 2017 … father played in the NFL and is the second player from New Zealand to play in an NFL game.
  • Carli Lloyd – the name may be the same as the star on the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, but Carli Lloyd of USA Volleyball is making a name for herself after making the 2016 U.S. Olympic Volleyball Team and named most valuable player of the 2015 Pan American Games … named the 2017 USA Volleyball Female Indoor Athlete of the Year … she has also tackled depression early in the 2016 Olympic quad … uncle is Galen Tomlinson, who was Turbo in the 1980s television series American Gladiator and became a father figure to Carli after her father passed away when she was 4.
  • Rachael Adams – earned a starting middle blocker role on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team after an impressive season that earned her USA Volleyball’s Female Indoor Most Improved Player of the Year following a 2015 season in which she did not make any of the top tier international tournament rosters … her father was drafted in the fourth round of the 1978 NBA draft by the San Antonio Spurs.
  • Kelsey Robinson – is a 2016 Olympic bronze medalist who did not compete in any tournaments in 2017 to rest from a long 2016 Olympic quad … she remained active in the training gym … she has launched her own website, nomandplay.com, that combines her passions for play, travel and food.
  • Kelly Murphy – is a 2016 Olympic bronze medalist who took the fall season off from the U.S. Women’s National Team and all of the 2017-18 professional season to finish her collegiate degree from the University of Florida.
  • The U.S. Women’s National Team will have several new faces in the USA gym this summer with the FIVB Volleyball Nations League and Pan American Cup overlapping in competition and training time … head coach Karch Kiraly will evaluate young players and those who have been playing pro for a few seasons but outside the National Team spotlight.
  • Seven players remain active from 2016 Olympic Games roster.