U.S. Women Eye 2nd VNL Gold in China

By Bill Kauffman (bill.kauffman@usav.org) | June 29, 2019, 8:12 a.m. (ET)

Michelle Bartsch-Hackley attacking and Kelsey Robinson ready for the cover
Michelle Bartsch-Hackley (attacking) and Kelsey Robinson have helped lead the U.S. Women into the FIVB Volleyball Nations League Finals Round

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (June 29, 2019) – The U.S. Women’s National Team heads into the FIVB Volleyball Nations League Finals Round July 3-7 in Nanjing, China, as the defending champion and finished this year’s 15-match preliminary round in second place.

However, the 2018 VNL title and 2019 preliminary round record are long- and short-term history with no future bearing to the current goal: winning the 2019 VNL title.

The United States, ranked third in the world, advanced to the Finals Round of six countries with a 12-3 record and 35 points through the five-week preliminary phase, matching top-seed China who had a better set ratio to claim the top spot. Brazil, Italy and Turkey all finished with 11-4 records and earned seeds three through five, respectively. The top five teams all finished within one match win of each other. Poland gained the final spot into the Finals with a 9-6 record.

“I think the VNL is the toughest tournament in volleyball,” U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly said. “The 16 best teams in the world, we play each of them once, three teams in one week for five weeks in five countries. It is incredibly challenging for the teams that survived that. The final six obviously showed that they have some resilience and some depth. I think it was a wonderful challenge for all the teams. It is a really gnarly tournament.”

Based on preliminary round rankings, the U.S. has been grouped into Pool B with Brazil and Poland. Team USA opens the Finals Round on July 3 versus Poland, followed by Brazil on July 5. Both matches have first serve at 3 a.m. ET. The VNL semifinals are on July 6 and followed by the medal round on July 7. All USA matches in the VNL can be streamed through flovolleyball.tv. The USA-Poland match will air on the Olympic Channel at 8 p.m. ET on July 4, while the gold-medal match will air live on the Olympic Channel on July 7 at 7:30 a.m. ET.

VNL Finals Round Teams with Preliminary Round Head-to-Head Results
1. China (12-3, 35 points): lost to USA 3-0; lost to BRA 3-0; def. ITA 3-2; def. TUR 3-0; def. POL 3-0
2. USA (12-3, 35 points): def. CHN 3-0; lost to BRA 3-1; def. ITA 3-2; lost to TUR 3-0; def. POL 3-1
3. Brazil (11-4, 35 points): def. CHN 3-0; def. USA 3-1; def. ITA 3-0; lost to TUR 3-2; lost to POL 3-2
4. Italy (11-4, 34 points): lost to CHN 3-2; lost to USA 3-2; lost to BRA 3-0; def. TUR 3-2; def. POL 3-2
5. Turkey (11-4, 32 points): lost to CHN 3-0; def. USA 3-0; def. BRA 3-2; lost to ITA 3-2; def. POL 3-2
6. Poland (9-6, 26 points): lost to CHN 3-0; lost to USA 3-1; def. BRA 3-2; lost to TUR 3-2; lost to ITA 3-2

Notes on Finals Round Teams:

  • China, USA, Brazil and Turkey were all 3-2 against other Finals Round opponents, while Italy was 2-3 and Poland 1-4.
  • China lost in straight sets to second-seeded USA and third-seeded Brazil, but the Chinese finished atop the league standings based on overall set ratio.
  • Turkey played all five of its matches against Finals Round opponents in the final two weeks of the preliminary schedule.
  • Italy went five sets against four of the other five Finals Round teams, winning against the two lowest seeds and losing against the two highest seeds
  • Of the 15 head-to-head matches among Finals Round teams, seven went the full five sets.

The VNL champion earns a top prize of $1 million dollars, while second place receives $500,000, third place $300,000, fourth place $150,000, and fifth and sixth place $75,000 each.

As with the five preliminary round weeks, Kiraly and his staff have selected a balanced roster infusing veterans and younger players together to compete in the VNL Finals.

The roster has Olympic veterans in Larson and Robinson at outside hitter, while Dixon, Bartsch-Hackley and Courtney have World Championship experience as do Larson and Robinson. Three players – Lake, Rettke and Thompson – all have remaining collegiate eligibility. Poulter, Foecke, Washington and Ogbogu all played their final college season in either 2017 or 2018.

“We have some younger people who gave us some special contributions (in the VNL),” Kiraly said. “We wanted to see who out there, even some with remaining college eligibility, who might have the most promise and the most chance to have an impact on the USA future, both for the near term as in this year's Volleyball Nations League and also in the quite, slightly less near-term looking through the through the last 14 months of this Olympic cycle, and then of course far beyond 2020.”

During the course of the 15-match preliminary schedule, Kiraly penciled in 15 different starting lineups including the final four matches with a different libero without taking a loss. Drews and Ogbogu have started the most matches with nine, while Robinson and Courtney have eight starts.

“We used 15 different starting lineups in 15 matches,” Kiraly said. “Part of the purpose behind playing so many combinations was that we had an opportunity to learn about some people who had not spent much time, or any time, in a USA Jersey at an FIVB level competition prior to this Volleyball Nations League. Also, by playing some of those younger players, it gave us an opportunity to rest some people. For example, Karsta Lowe, Michelle Bartsch-Hackley and Lauren Carlini - they didn't finish their European club seasons until May 18 when they played the Champions League Final. So, they needed some down time and some ramp up time. It all fit together very well. We got to learn a lot about a lot of players. At the same time, we got to rest people more appropriately.”

Heading into the VNL Finals Round, Drews is the leading scorer for Team USA with 158 points (136 kills, 12, blocks, 10 aces) for 4.27 kill per set played. She ranks 17th in scoring in the VNL. Drews has converted 46.3 percent of her attacks into points for fourth best in the VNL.

Ogbogu ranks 35th in scoring in the VNL with 126 points (89 kills, 24 blocks, 13 aces) for 3.15 points per set. She has converted 63.1 percent of her attacks into kills but does not meet the minimum attack numbers for Best Spiker recognition. Ogbogu ranks 19th in VNL blocking with 0.43 blocks per USA sets played (0.60 blocks per set she has played). She also ranks 18th in Best Server with 0.23 aces per USA sets played (0.33 aces per sets she has played).

Robinson, who has started the last eight matches of the VNL, has 90 points (68 kills, 10 blocks, 12 aces) for 60th overall in the VNL. She averages 3.33 points per set even with one of her starts at libero.

Thompson, Foecke and Rettke, all three U.S. rookies in 2019, have shown they can compete against the top players. Thompson, who will be a senior at Cincinnati this fall, has 81 total points with a 37.4 kill percent. Foecke has converted 41.7 percent of her attacks with 71 total points in limited action. Foecke also has a 10.85 receiver efficiency for 16th best in the VNL. Rettke, who will be a junior at Wisconsin this fall and the youngest player for Team USA at 20, has collected 71 points with a 60.0 kill percent. She has also averaged 0.64 blocks per set she has played.

Washington has scored 73 points in 25 VNL sets played. She has converted 53.9 percent of her attacks into points with a 0.88 blocks per sets she has played.

Bartsch-Hackley, who did not join the Team USA until the fourth preliminary week, has quickly scored 57 points with a 42.5 kill percent and even started once at libero. She earned the 2018 VNL most valuable player honor, including splitting time at outside and opposite in the gold-medal match.

Courtney, who has eight starts at setter, has averaged 2.94 digs per set she has played. Carlini has started four of the last five matches, all USA victories.

USA Individual Quick Stats
Annie Drews – 158 points (136 kills, 12 blocks, 10 aces) for 17th in VNL; 46.3 kill percent
Chiaka Ogbogu – 126 points (89 kills, 24 blocks, 13 aces) for 35th in VNL; 63.1 kill percent
Kelsey Robinson – 90 points (68 kills, 10 blocks, 12 aces) for 60th in VNL; 40.5 kill percent
Jordan Thompson – 81 points (67 kills, 9 blocks, 5 aces) for 71st in VNL; 37.4 kill percent
Haleigh Washington – 73 points (41 kills, 22 blocks, 10 aces) for 74th in VNL; 53.9 kill percent
Mikaela Foecke – 71 points (65 kills, 3 blocks, 3 aces) for 80th in VNL; 41.7 kill percent
Dana Rettke – 71 points (51 kills, 14 blocks, 6 aces) for 81st in VNL; 60.0 kill percent
Michelle Bartsch-Hackley – 57 points (48 kills, 4 blocks, 5 aces) for 104th in VNL; 42.5 kill percent
Jordan Larson – 49 points (39 kills, 4 blocks, 6 aces) for 115th in VNL; 35.5 kill percent
Tori Dixon – 34 points (21 kills, 10 blocks, 3 aces) for 135th in VNL
Jordyn Poulter – 15 points (4 kills, 6 blocks, 5 aces); 137 running sets in 15 sets played
Lauren Carlini – 10 points (6 kills, 2 blocks, 2 aces); 104 running sets in 15 sets played
Megan Courtney – 91 digs in 31 sets played for 2.94 digs per sets played
Mary Lake – 44 digs in 24 sets played for 1.83 digs per sets played

Leading Scorers on Finals Round Teams:

  • Poland’s Malwina Smarzek is the tournament’s leading scorer with 365 points – 107 more points than the second best scorer Brayelin Martinez of Dominican Republic.
  • Brazil’s Gabriela Guimaraes is the fourth-best scorer in the VNL with 234 points.
  • Turkey’s Ebrar Karakurt ranks seventh in scoring in the VNL with 217 points.
  • Italy’s Indre Sorokaite and Elena Pietrini have 203 points each in the VNL for eighth place.
  • China’s Yuan Xinyue and Zhu Ting have each scored 119 points through the preliminary round to rank 41st overall.

U.S. Women's National Team Roster for FIVB Volleyball Nations League Finals Round – Nanjing, China
# - Player (Position, Height, College, Hometown)
2 – Jordyn Poulter (S, 6-2, Illinois, Aurora, Colorado)
6 – Tori Dixon (M, 6-3, Minnesota, Burnsville, Minnesota)
7 – Lauren Carlini (S, 6-2, Wisconsin, Aurora, Illinois)
10 – Jordan Larson (OH, 6-2, Nebraska, Hooper, Nebraska)
11 – Annie Drews (OPP, 6-4, Purdue, Elkhart, Indiana)
12 – Jordan Thompson (OPP, 6-4, Cincinnati, Edina, Minnesota)
14 – Michelle Bartsch-Hackley (OH, 6-3, Illinois, Champaign, Illinois)
17 – Megan Courtney (L, 6-1, Penn State, Dayton, Ohio)
18 – Mikaela Foecke (OH, 6-3, Nebraska, West Point, Iowa)
20 – Dana Rettke (M, 6-8, Wisconsin, Riverside, Illinois)
22 – Haleigh Washington (M, 6-3, Penn State, Colorado Springs, Colorado)
23 – Kelsey Robinson (OH, 6-2, Nebraska, Manhattan Beach, California)
24 – Chiaka Ogbogu (M, 6-2, Texas, Coppell, Texas)
27 – Mary Lake (L, 5-7, BYU, Palm Springs, California)

Head Coach: Karch Kiraly
Assistant Coaches: Luka Slabe, Tama Miyashiro, Erin Virtue
Technical Coordinator: Jeff Liu

FIVB Volleyball Nations League Schedule - U.S. Women's National Team (All Times ET)
May 21: USA def. Belgium 25-23, 25-8, 25-22
May 22: USA def. Japan 25-21, 24-26, 25-21, 25-20
May 23: USA def. Bulgaria 25-20, 25-16, 25-21
May 28: USA def. Serbia 23-25, 25-16, 25-15, 25-21
May 29: USA def. Italy 25-22, 17-25, 23-25, 25-19, 15-11
May 30: USA lost to Dominican Republic 25-10, 16-25, 25-19, 19-25, 15-11
June 4: USA def. Korea 19-25, 25-15, 25-22, 25-18
June 5: USA def Germany 25-18, 25-22, 25-18
June 6: USA lost to Brazil 25-19, 25-17, 22-25, 25-20
June 11: USA lost to Turkey 25-15, 25-17, 27-25
June 12: USA def. Poland 21-25, 25-23, 25-15, 25-11
June 13: USA def. China 25-17, 25-22, 25-21
June 18: USA def. Russia 25-23, 25-17, 25-18
June 19: USA def. Netherlands 25-21, 23-25, 22-25, 28-26, 15-9
June 20: USA def. Thailand 25-13, 25-20, 25-17

FIVB Volleyball Nations League Finals Round - at Nanjing, China
July 3: USA vs. Poland, 3 a.m. ET
July 3: China vs. Turkey, 7:30 a.m. ET
July 4: Brazil vs. Poland, 3 a.m. ET
July 4: Italy vs. Turkey, 7:30 a.m. ET
July 5: USA vs. Brazil, 3 a.m. ET
July 5: China vs. Italy, 7:30 a.m. ET
July 6: Semifinal #1 (1A vs 2B), 3 a.m. ET
July 6: Semifinal #2 (1B vs 2A), 7:30 a.m. ET
July 7: Bronze-Medal Match, 3 a.m. ET
July 7: Gold-Medal Match, 7:30 a.m. ET