U.S. Olympic Women's Volleyball Team Preview

Full Pre-Olympic Press Kit

The U.S. Women’s National Indoor Volleyball Team will be looking to make history at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, which is shaping up to be the “Volleyball Olympics” with the popularity of the sport in host Brazil and its volleyball rivalries with Team USA.

Team USA, ranked No. 1 in the world by the FIVB ahead of No. 2 Brazil and No. 3 China, has produced a lot of firsts in the current Olympic quadrennial. Karch Kiraly, the first male or female player to win Olympic gold in both indoor and beach volleyball, took over the program in late September in his first head coaching position. In 2014, he guided the U.S. women to their first FIVB World Championship gold medal in 62 years, which also marked Team USA’s first gold medal in any of the three triple crown events – world championship, FIVB World Cup or Olympic Games.

Although the U.S. Women’s National Team has claimed the Olympic silver medal at the 1984, 2008 and 2012 Games, the U.S. has yet to win Olympic gold. Led by its core group of veterans and seven newcomers to the team since 2013, the squad is eyeing the top the podium spot at the Rio Games.

The squad boasts several international superstars including setter Alisha Glass, 2013 and 2014 USA Volleyball Female Indoor Player of the Year; outside hitters Jordan Larson, 2015 USAV Female Indoor Player of the Year, and Kim Hill 2014 FIVB World Championship MVP; middles Foluke Akinradewo and Christa Dietzen; and libero Kayla Banwarth. Budding superstars include opposite Karsta Lowe, 2015 FIVB World Grand Prix MVP, outside hitter Kelsey Robinson, FIVB World Grand Prix Second Best Outside Hitter; middle Rachael Adams, 2016 FIVB World Grand Prix Best Blocker, opposite Kelly Murphy, the team’s leading scorer in 2013 and 2014, among other talented players waiting in the wings for their chance to shine.

After an infusion of youth in 2013 that resulted in a 25-6 record and mixed results throughout the season, Team USA began to put the pieces together in 2014. In the second year of the quad, the U.S. started the season 17-1 including four consecutive wins over then-No. 1 Brazil. However, Team USA again stumbled in the FIVB World Grand Prix and failed to make the final round. The U.S. used the added time to re-focus and change its serve away from jump serve to the float in preparation for the world championship in Italy against the best teams in the world. What resulted was Team USA’s first-ever world championship title to cap a 33-8 season.

In 2015, the U.S. secured a 41-6 overall record and claimed four gold medals in five tournaments, including the FIVB World Grand Prix, Pan American Games, NORCECA Championship and Pan American Cup. Yet Team USA’s bronze-medal finish at the FIVB World Cup – the first Olympic Qualifier that ticketed only the top-two teams to Rio – shows they still have areas to improve heading into 2016.

The U.S. qualified for the Olympics by winning the NORCECA Olympic Qualification tournament Jan. 7-9 in Lincoln, Nebraska. The top-level team also went 8-1 in the FIVB World Grand Prix preliminary round earlier this summer to reach the six-team finals that had five Olympic-bound countries competing. Team USA came up one victory shy of winning its seventh FIVB World Grand Prix title, losing to third-ranked Brazil in a thrilling five-set gold-medal match in Bangkok on July 10. Since winning the 2014 FIVB World Championship, the Americans have won six of their last eight tournaments and reached the podium in each of those eight tournaments.

Notes and Dates

  • The U.S. Women qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games by winning the NORCECA Olympic Qualification Tournament held Jan. 7-9, 2016, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Team USA defeated Puerto Rico (later qualified for Olympics in May 2016), Dominican Republic and Canada.
  • The U.S. Women leave their training base in Anaheim on July 29 and go through USOC team processing on July 30 in Houston before arriving in Rio on July 31.
  • The U.S. Olympic Women’s Volleyball Team will train at the Navy School, one of the USOC’s High Performance Training Centers in Rio.
  • The women’s indoor Olympic format is 12 countries broken into two round-robin groups competing from Aug. 6-14. Each day of the preliminary round will have six matches, alternating days with the men’s Olympic matches. The crossover knockout quarterfinals are on Aug. 16, followed by the semifinals on Aug. 18 and medal round matches on Aug. 20. All matches are played at the Maracanazinho (or ‘little Maracana’) venue, which is located in the Maracana neighborhood in Rio’s North Zone, right next to the legendary Maracana Stadium which will host Opening and Closing Ceremonies in addition to Olympic soccer matches.

ATHLETES TO WATCH

Foluke Akinradewo
Akinradewo, one of the top middle blockers in the world, earned the silver medal with Team USA at the 2012 Olympic Games as she was second-best middle blocker of the tournament. She averaged 2.50 points with a .412 hitting efficiency, helping the U.S. win the 2014 FIVB World Championship.

Kayla Banwarth
Banwarth, who joined Team USA in January 2011, became Team USA’s starting libero in 2013 when she was honored with USA Volleyball’s Female Indoor Most Improved Player Award. She was named the Best Receiver at the 2015 NORCECA Continental Championship, helping Team USA win gold. She earned back-to-back Pan American Cup gold medals in 2012 and 2013 as the starting libero.

Christa Dietzen
When healthy, Dietzen is one of most overpowering middle blockers in the world. A 2012 Olympic Games silver medalist, she has been limited in this quad due to injuries. However, she captained the U.S. to the gold medal at the 2015 FIVB World Grand Prix and NORCECA Continental Championship. She was selected Second Best Middle Blocker in the prestigious 2015 World Grand Prix.

Alisha Glass
Glass, who was named USA Volleyball’s Female Indoor Athlete of the Year in 2013 and 2014, is considered one of the best setters in the world. She was named Best Setter at the 2014 FIVB World Championship as Team USA won the gold medal. Glass won three consecutive gold medals in the FIVB World Grand Prix (2010, 2011, 2012) and was named MVP of the event in 2010 and 2013.

Kim Hill
Hill, who almost did not attend the 2013 U.S. Women’s National Team Open Tryout that had 240 aspiring athletes dreaming to play for Team USA, has blossomed into an international star in a short time. She was named MVP of the 2014 FIVB World Championship as Team USA won its first-ever gold medal in the event, and just recently earned Second Best Outside Spiker at the 2016 FIVB World Grand Prix. While competing at Pepperdine University, she became the first and only student-athlete to make the AVCA All-America First-Team roster in both indoor and sand volleyball during the same academic year (2011-12).

Jordan Larson
Larson, an outside hitter who earned silver at the 2012 Olympic Games, has developed into an international star despite growing up in a town of 830 people. The Hooper, Nebraska, native was named USA Volleyball’s 2015 Female Indoor Athlete of the Year with consistent results for Team USA. During the 2015 club season, she led her Turkish club Eczacibasi to gold at the 2015 FIVB Club World Championship and 2015 European Champions League while earning MVP honors in both events.

STORYLINES

  • The U.S. Women’s National Team has been one of the dominant programs for 30-plus years, yet it has never won a gold medal at the Olympic Games. Team USA has produced Olympic silver medals in each of the last two Olympic Games, falling to Brazil in both 2008 and 2012. Team USA also won silver in 1984 and bronze in 1992.
  • Karch Kiraly, considered the best volleyball player of all-time by FIVB and selected as its greatest volleyball player of the 20th century, is the only athlete to win Olympic gold medals in both indoor (1984, 1988) and beach volleyball (1996). After serving as an assistant coach with the U.S. women from 2009-12, Kiraly accepted the head coaching job for the U.S. women’s national team in September 2012. In his fourth year as head coach leading the program, Team USA holds a 118-23 overall record with eight tournament titles, including the 2014 FIVB World Championship, to become just the fourth volleyball player to win both a world championship gold medal as both a player and coach.
  • While the past two U.S. Olympic women’s indoor volleyball teams were loaded with veteran talent and earned silver medals, the current quadrennial has showcased a balanced mix of Olympians with new talent joining the team since 2013. Veterans include Olympians Foluke Akinradewo and Christa Dietzen at middle blocker, Jordan Larson at outside hitter and setter Courtney Thompson. However, they are being pushed by more than a dozen players who have joined the team since 2013 and are making an immediate impact on the squad, in addition to the other veterans who are aiming for their first Olympic Games. Among notable newcomers this quad are outside hitters Kim Hill (FIVB World Championship MVP), Kelsey Robinson (2015 FIVB World Grand Prix Best Outside Hitter), opposites Karsta Lowe (2015 FIVB World Grand Prix MVP) and Kelly Murphy (Team USA leading scorer in 2013 and 2014), and middle Rachael Adams (2016 FIVB World Grand Prix Best Blocker).