U.S. Women Edge Italy in VNL 5-Set Thriller

By Bill Kauffman (bill.kauffman@usav.org) | May 29, 2019, 5:32 p.m. (ET)

Madi Kingdon Rishel hits through the Italian block
Madi Kingdon Rishel hits through the Italian block

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (May 29, 2019) – The U.S. Women’s National Team defeated host Italy 25-22, 17-25, 23-25, 25-19, 15-11 on Wednesday at Conegliano, Italy, in a battle of the final two undefeated teams in the FIVB Volleyball Nations League.

The U.S., now 5-0 with 14 points in the 2019 VNL, resumes action next on May 30 against NORCECA zonal rival Dominican Republic (2-3, 6 points) at 11 a.m. ET. The match can be streamed live on flovolleyball.tv. Italy, the runners-up in the 2018 FIVB World Championship, is now 4-1 with 12 points in this year’s VNL. The Americans have now beat the first- and second-place teams from the 2018 FIVB World Championships in the first two VNL days in Conegliano, Italy. The U.S. beat world champion Serbia on Tuesday.

Related: Unofficial Stats | Info on Team USA VNL Matches in Lincoln (June 4-6)

Team USA used a 6-0 run in the opening set to take a 17-12 advantage and cruised to a 25-22 victory. Italy responded with a convincing 25-17 victory in which it used a 5-0 run to build an early 9-4 lead. The U.S. rallied from a 20-17 deficit in the third set to tie it at 21-all, but Italy came away with the 25-23 victory. The Americans raced to an 8-2 lead in the fourth set with a 7-0 run and held on for a 25-19 win. Annie Drews (Elkhart, Indiana) scored seven points for Team USA in the tiebreaking set as the Americans raced to a 5-2 advantage and never trailed.

And then there was just one. U.S. Women's National Team defeats Italy in five-set thriller in battle of last undefeated...

Posted by USA Volleyball on Wednesday, May 29, 2019

“It wasn’t the cleanest volleyball on either side,” U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly said. “But the most important thing was how our USA team, 14 strong and far more in California working hard for upcoming weeks in this tournament or other tournaments this year, worked. It was a group effort and really proud in how this group battled so hard for each other and celebrated each other’s successes.”

Outside hitter Madi Kingdon Rishel (Phoenix, Arizona) led the U.S. with 19 points via 18 kills on 30 attacks and a block. Outside hitter Simone Lee (Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin), seeing her first action in the VNL, collected 13 points with 11 kills and two blocks after a slow start to the match. Middle Chiaka Ogbogu (Coppell, Texas) tallied eight kills on nine swings, two blocks and two aces for 12 points.

“Beating Italy in this gym is an amazing feeling,” Ogbogu said. “I hope we all realize this is a team that got silver at World Championship. Although they did not have their complete team (tonight), they really battled and showed us what it means to fight. I am just glad that our team pulled this one out. We were very resilient. I am just excited for what else USA can bring. USA really showed its grit today and what they are about.”

Drews, who only started the final two sets after being a double sub in sets two and three, finished with six kills on 15 attacks, three blocks and an ace for 10 points. Opposite Jordan Thompson (Edina, Minnesota) charted six kills and two blocks in starting the first three sets. Middle Haleigh Washington (Colorado Springs, Colorado) contributed four kills and a block for five points. Setter Micha Hancock (Edmond, Oklahoma) scored a kill and ace for two points, while setter Jordyn Poulter (Aurora, Colorado) rounded out the scoring with an ace as the double-sub setter in sets two and three.

“I am really proud with how this group the way they fought through,” Kiraly said. “This was a chance for Simone Lee to run us at outside. After a slow start I am really impressed with her ability to continue to make more and more positive and solid. She was a big part in helping us win in the fourth and fifth sets. Annie Drews came in and was huge in reserve, helping out Jordan Thompson after Jordan did the same for Annie last week. They are a nice pair of opposites in terms of helping each other out.”

With Hancock starting and Poulter spelling her in the double-sub, Team USA converted 42 percent of its attacks into points with a .273 hitting efficiency (54-19-128). The Americans held the Italians to a 40 kill percent with a .230 hitting efficiency (61-26-152).

Kingdon Rishel handled a team-high 37 receptions with a 43 positive reception percent and chipped in 11 digs. Libero Megan Courtney (Dayton, Ohio) was unofficially credited with a 57 positive reception percent on 23 chances. She added eight digs in the victory.

Although Italy held huge advantages in kills (62-54) and aces (9-5), errors were its downfall. The Italians committed 33 errors in the match compared to the Americans’ 21. Team USA also had an 11-9 margin in blocks.

The U.S. started Hancock at setter, Lee and Kingdon Rishel at outside hitter, Thompson at opposite, Ogbogu and Washington at middle. Courtney was the libero. Mary Lake (Palm Springs, California) was a defensive specialist in the match

The VNL, a 16-country league for both genders, includes 15 pool play matches for each country spread over five consecutive weeks with four pods of four teams competing in round-robin action every week. The top five teams from the preliminary round will compete in the VNL Final Six along with host China from July 3-7 with the winner receiving $1 million.

As part of the VNL, Team USA will then host No. 9 Korea on June 4, No. 13 Germany on June 5 and No. 4 Brazil on June 6 in Lincoln, Nebraska. All three matches in Lincoln will be played at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Tickets can be purchased by clicking here.

The U.S. went up 4-2 in the opening set with two Ogbogu kills and two Italy errors. Washington put up a block between kills from Lee and Thompson to raise the American lead to 7-3. Italy ended the U.S. 3-0 run with a 4-0 run of its own to level the set at 7-all. Kingdon Rishel ended the run with a kill and Ogbogu followed with a block at 9-7. Italy took its first lead at 12-11 on three straight USA errors. Thompson downed a kill and put up two blocks around two Italy errors to shift the lead to Team USA at 16-12 at the second technical timeout. Out of the break, Ogbogu served an ace to raise the lead to 17-12. Italy cut the deficit to 17-14 with consecutive points. Hancock served an ace after an Ogbogu kill and Italy committed an attack error to extend Team USA’s lead to 23-17. Italy sliced the deficit to 23-20 on a 3-0 run capped by an ace. Italy saved two set points before the Americans finished the set 25-22 on a service error.

Italy moved out to a 9-4 lead early in the second set on five unanswered points. Italy advanced its advantage to 17-10 with a 3-0 run capped by an ace. Thompson stopped the run with a kill and Poulter followed with an ace to close the gap to 17-12. Italy closed out the set on an ace at 25-17.

Team USA took a 3-1 lead in the third set with an Ogbogu kill and two Italy errors, but Italy answered quickly tying the set at 3-all with an ace off the net. Italy committed consecutive errors and Kingdon Rishel and Lee hit through the block to put the U.S. in front 7-3. Italy used a 4-1 run to move to within one at 8-7. Italy ran off four straight points to take the lead at 12-10. Consecutive Italy errors put the Americans into a 14-all tie. Italy forced USA into a timeout trailing 18-15 on an Italy 3-0 run. Kingdon Rishel answered with consecutive kills to cut the deficit to 18-17. Italy quickly answered with two points to regain a three-point lead at 20-17. Ogbogu put up a block after a Kingdon Rishel kill to move Team USA to within one at 20-19. The Americans leveled the set at 21-all with a Kingdon Rishel kill and Ogbogu block. Italy responded with two points to go up 23-21. Italy closed out the set at 25-23.

The U.S. rushed to an 8-2 lead in the fourth set using two points each from Lee and Washington and three Italian errors as part of a 7-0 run. Italy committed consecutive errors to extend the American lead to 11-4. Italy trimmed the deficit to 11-6 with a block. Ogbogu pounded an overpass after an Italian service error to return USA in front by seven, 14-7. The U.S. advantage reached 18-10 with a Lee kill and Italy error. Italy answered with a 3-0 run to slice the deficit to 18-13. Washington and Lee recorded consecutive kills and Hancock put up a block to inch the lead to 22-14. Italy clawed back to within 22-17 with a 3-0 run.

The U.S. scored the first three points of the tiebreaker with a kill and block from Drews around an Italy error. Italy answered with two quick points to narrow the gap to 3-2. The Americans raised their lead to 5-2 with a Lee kill after an Italian service error. Italy cut the deficit to 5-4 after a USA error. Drews served an ace to follow a Lee kill to prompt Italy to call timeout trailing 7-4. Italy served an ace to move to within one at 7-6. In another trade of two points, the U.S. went up 9-6 with a Hancock kill after an Italian service error. Drews ignited the U.S. to a 13-9 advantage with a block and kill, then finished the set at 15-11 with her seventh point of the set.

U.S. Women's National Team Roster for FIVB Volleyball Nations League Week #2 in Italy
# - Player (Position, Height, College, Hometown)
1 – Micha Hancock (S, 5-11, Penn State, Edmond, Oklahoma)
2 – Jordyn Poulter (S, 6-2, Illinois, Aurora, Colorado)
9 – Madi Kingdon Rishel (OH, 6-1, Arizona, Phoenix, Arizona)
11 – Annie Drews (OPP, 6-4, Purdue, Elkhart, Indiana)
12 – Jordan Thompson (OPP, 6-4, Cincinnati, Edina, Minnesota)
13 – Sarah Wilhite Parsons (OH, 6-2, Minnesota, Eden Prairie, Minnesota)
17 – Megan Courtney (L, 6-1, Penn State, Dayton, Ohio)
19 – Hannah Tapp (M, 6-3, Minnesota, Stewartville, Minnesota)
20 – Dana Rettke (M, 6-8, Wisconsin, Riverside, Illinois)
21 – Simone Lee (OH, 6-1, Penn State, Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin)
22 – Haleigh Washington (M, 6-3, Penn State, Colorado Springs, Colorado)
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
Athletic Trainer: Aimee Miyazawa
Team Manager: Matjaz Hafner

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 vs. Dominican Republic (at Conegliano Venato, Italy), 11 a.m.
June 4: USA vs. Korea (at Lincoln, Nebraska), 8:30 p.m.
June 5: USA vs. Germany (at Lincoln, Nebraska), 8:30 p.m.
June 6: USA vs. Brazil (at Lincoln, Nebraska), 8:30 p.m.
June 11: USA vs. Turkey (at Jiangmen, China), 4 a.m.
June 12: USA vs. Poland (at Jiangmen, China), 4 a.m.
June 13: USA vs. China (at Jiangmen, China), 8 a.m.
June 18: USA vs. Russia (at Ekaterinburg, Russia), 10 a.m.
June 19: USA vs. Netherlands (at Ekaterinburg, Russia), 7 a.m.
June 20: USA vs. Thailand (at Ekaterinburg, Russia), 7 a.m.

FIVB Volleyball Nations League Final Round - at Nanjing, China
July 3-7: China plus top five other countries in preliminary round