Sports

Ex-Stanford teammates help USA women's volleyball win

Akinradewo and Tom spark Americans in comeback victory over Poland

Former Stanford All-American Foluke Akinradewo scored six of her match-high 19 points in the fifth game to help rally the U.S. Women's National Volleyball Team from two games down to defeat Poland, 13-25, 18-25, 28-26, 25-19, 15-12, on Wednesday during the opening day of the 18th FIVB World Grand Prix Final Round at Ningbo, China.

The Americans, who scored just 31 points in the first two sets and battled back from four match points in the third set to stay in the contest, won their seventh consecutive match -- including six during the FIVB World Grand Prix preliminary round.

Team USA faces Italy on Thursday in its next match. On the middle day of competition, the Americans challenge two-time defending champion Brazil on Friday before playing host China on Saturday. The FIVB World Grand Prix Final Round is a five-day, six-team round-robin event that concludes Sunday.

Poland gained an early 8-4 lead in Game 1 and reached a double-digit lead at 19-9 before finishing with a 25-13 victory. Poland led the U.S. by 19-12 in Game 2 and maintained the seven-point advantage for a 25-18 victory. Team USA overcame deficits of 14-10 and 24-22 to win Game 3 by 28-26, saving four game points. The Americans rolled out to a 10-4 lead in Game 4 and led by as many as 10 points before finishing with a 25-19 victory. USA scored three straight points to break a 10-all tie in Game 5 en route to completing the comeback with a 15-12 victory.

"We started very slowly, partly due to our own problems, partly due to the pressure from Poland," U.S. coach Hugh McCutcheon said. "They got some really good players in attacking. The third set was the turning point. I am happy that we are playing more like a team. It's a good lesson for us."

Akinradewo tallied 14 kills and a match-high five blocks to reach her match-high 19 points. Former Stanford teammate Logan Tom produced 15 kills and three blocks for 18 points, including all three consecutive points after the score was tied 10-all in the fifth set. Ogonna Nnamani, yet another Stanford grad, came off the bench to score eight points on six kills and two blocks.

"It was a tough match," said U.S. captain Jennifer (Joines) Tamas of Milpitas. "Poland is a very offensive team. We are happy to be able to play in the Final Round of the Grand Prix. We are ready to play our best level."

Tom totaled a team-high nine digs and nine excellent service receptions on 28 attempts.

The U.S. held a convincing 16-9 block advantage over Poland. Poland held a slim 4-3 margin in aces and a 60-51 lead in kills. Team USA gave Poland 34 points on errors, but only four in the final two sets. Half of the Americans' errors were due to 17 service errors.

Just two weeks ago, Team USA's chances of reaching the World Grand Prix Final Round seemed remote based on its 1-2 record and eighth place in the standings following the first weekend in Poland. However, the Americans caught fire in Thailand starting with a four-game victory over Italy followed by wins over Thailand and Puerto Rico. This past weekend, the U.S. carried the momentum into Hong Kong, beginning with a three-game win over Germany to avenge a four-game loss in the opening weekend.

Team USA, which has reached the medal podium in both its earlier tournaments in 2010, has not played in the FIVB World Grand Prix Final Round since 2008, when it finished fourth.

-- Palo Alto Online Sports/USA Volleyball

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