U.S. Women Set for Worlds Opener vs Azerbaijan

By Bill Kauffman (bill.kauffman@usav.org) | Sept. 28, 2018, 11:28 a.m. (ET)

U.S. Women's National Team during National Anthem
(L-R): Megan Courtney, Foluke Akinradewo, Jordan Larson and Rachael Adams during the national anthem

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Sept. 28, 2018) – The U.S. Women’s National Team, ranked second in the world, opens its 2018 FIVB World Championship slate against Azerbaijan on Saturday at 3:10 a.m. ET in Kobe, Japan, with a target on its back.

Team USA is the defending world champions having captured gold in 2014 during the most recent edition. Earlier this year the Americans won the inaugural FIVB Volleyball Nations League, a grueling competition that included five weekends of pool play before the Final Six round. Overall, the U.S. finished 17-2 in VNL and are 26-4 in 2018.

There are not too many unknowns about the U.S. Women. The same cannot be said for their opening match opponent.

Related: U.S. Women’s National Team Home Page | Team USA World Championship Press Kit | 2018 U.S. Women’s Schedule/Results | 2018 U.S. Women’s Season Stats

Azerbaijan, ranked 24th in the world, is the only first round opponent the U.S. has not faced in 2018 as it did not compete in the Volleyball Nations League. And Team USA has not faced Azerbaijan since the 2006 FIVB World Championship. Overall, the two teams have faced each other only three times – twice in the Yeltsin Cup in 2003 and 2004 – and Azerbaijan has won all three meetings.

Azerbaijan is making its fourth appearance in the FIVB World Championship, having qualified by placing first in European Confederation (CEV) Pool E2 at home in a tournament held May 23-June 4, 2017. The squad finished ninth in its 1994 debut, then 13th in 2006 and 15th in 2014.

Azerbaijan has a 14-player roster with only four players with national team appearances, highlighted by outside hitter Natalya Mammadova’s 95 matches. She has played in 17 World Championship contests. She is known as a scoring machine with a wicked serve having picked up consecutive Best Scorer honors in the CEV Champions League’s League round back in 2004-05 and 2005-06. More recently, Mammadova helped Volero Zurich win bronze in the 2017 FIVB World Club Championship. She, along with middle Aynur Imanova and opposite Polina Rahimova, are the only players with World Championship experience.

Azerbaijan’s best success to date was gold at the 2016 European League after home-and-away wins over Slovakia in the final, 3-1 in Nitra and 3-0 in Baku. They came close to another medal last year, when they hosted the 2017 European Championship, reaching the semifinals before losing to the Netherlands in five sets and then defeated by Turkey in the bronze-medal match.

In the week leading up to the World Championship, Azerbaijan lost two friendly exhibition matches to Italy. Italy won the first match 25-21, 25-19, 25-20 on Sept. 25. In the rematch on Wednesday, Italy won again 26-24, 25-22, 25-22.

In contrast, the U.S. making its 16th World Championship appearance and is the defending champions. Team USA has eight players accounting for 10 Olympic Games medals. Middles Rachael Adams (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Foluke Akinradewo (Fort Lauderdale, Florida), outsides Kim Hill (Portland, Oregon) and Jordan Larson (Hooper, Nebraska), opposites Karsta Lowe (Rancho Santa Fe, California) and Kelly Murphy (Wilmington, Illinois), setter Carli Lloyd (Bonsall, California) and libero Kelsey Robinson (Manhattan Beach, California) were part of the 2016 Olympic Games roster. Further, outside hitter Michelle Bartsch-Hackley (Champaign, Illinois) won the 2018 VNL most valuable player honor and middle Tori Dixon (Burnsville, Minnesota) picked up the tournament’s best blocker award.

The U.S. has medaled in each of the last three Olympic Games, winning silver in 2008 and 2012 before finishing with bronze in 2016. The Americans are the only women’s indoor volleyball team to have reached the podium in each of the last three Olympic Games.

After facing Azerbaijan, Team USA’s first-round opponents will be more familiar to them having played each team at least once in 2018. The Americans challenge Trinidad & Tobago on Sept. 30 at 12:40 a.m. ET. After a day off from Pool C action, the U.S. returns to action on Oct. 2 against Korea at 6:20 a.m. ET followed by Thailand on Oct. 3 at 6:20 a.m. ET. The U.S. concludes pool play against Russia on Oct. 4 at 6:10 a.m. ET.

The top four teams in Pool C advance to the second round (Oct. 7-11) in Osaka and will face the top four teams from Pool B. All eight teams in the cross-over pool will begin the second round with all their wins and points accumulated from the first round. The top three teams from the two second round pools move on to the third round where the final six teams will battle it out Oct. 14-16 in Nagoya in two pools of three. The semifinals and medal matches are set for on Oct. 19-20 in Yokohama.

FloVolleyball.tv, a subscription streaming service, will stream all FIVB World Championship matches in the United States per an exclusive rights deal signed with the FIVB. To purchase a FloVolleyball.tv subscription, click here. To see the full World Championship schedule that FloVolleyball.tv will stream, click here.

U.S. Women's National Team Roster for FIVB World Championship

# - Player (Position, Height, College, Hometown)
1 – Micha Hancock (S, 5-11, Penn State, Edmond, Oklahoma)
3 – Carli Lloyd (S, 5-11, California, Bonsall, 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)
10 – Jordan Larson (OH, 6-2, Nebraska, Hooper, Nebraska)
12 – Kelly Murphy (OPP, 6-2, Florida, Wilmington, Illinois)
13 – Sarah Wilhite Parsons (OH, 6-2, Minnesota, Eden Prairie, Minnesota)
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)
17 – Megan Courtney (L, 6-1, Penn State, Dayton, Ohio)
23 – Kelsey Robinson (L, 6-2, Nebraska, Manhattan Beach, California)
24 – Karsta Lowe (OPP, 6-4, UCLA, Rancho Santa Fe, California)

Head Coach: Karch Kiraly
Assistant Coaches: Luka Slabe, Tama Miyashiro
Technical Coordinator: Jeff Liu
Physiotherapist: Kara Kessans
Team Manager: Jimmy Stitz
Doctors: Dr. Christopher Lee and Lori Boyajian-O’Neill
Consultant Coaches: Marv Dunphy
Scout Coach: Giuseppe Vinci
Mental Performance Coach: Traci Statler

2018 FIVB World Championship Schedule for Team USA

First-Round Pool C at Kobe, Japan (All Time Eastern)
Sept. 29: USA vs. Azerbaijan, 3:10 a.m.
Sept. 30: USA vs. Trinidad & Tobago, 12:40 a.m.
Oct. 2: USA vs. Korea, 6:20 a.m.
Oct. 3: USA vs. Thailand, 6:20 a.m.
Oct. 4: USA vs. Russia, 6:10 a.m.

Second Round at Osaka, Japan (Must finish top 4 in Pool C to advance)
Oct. 7-11

Third Round at Nagoya, Japan (Must finish top 3 in Second Round to advance)
Oct. 14-16 (two pools of three teams)

Semifinals and Medal Rounds in Yokohama, Japan (top two finishes in both Third Round Pools)
Oct. 19-20