Stanford grad Kristin Richards Hildebrand rose to the occasion during the final weekend of preliminary play at the FIVB Grand Prix in Japan. As a result, the United States women's national volleyball team has a chance to win its fourth consecutive Grand Prix title.
Hildebrand led the Americans in scoring in each of the last three matches, scoring 15 points Sunday to help the U.S. secure its spot in the final with a 16-25, 25-23, 20-25, 25-15, 15-8 victory over Bulgaria in Sendai.
The U.S. (8-1, 22 points) clinched its spot by reaching the fifth set, and then went on to win its sixth straight match. The Final Round will be held in Sapporo, Japan beginning Wednesday, Aug. 28.
"We've had challenging pools every weekend and I'm excited to get to the Finals," Hildebrand said.
Bulgaria (6-3, 19 points) beat both Brazil and Japan earlier in the tournament. Brazil handed the Americans their only loss of the preliminary rounds.
The U.S. overcame a five-point deficit in the second set and scored the final five points to even the match at 1-1 after falling in the first set.
Bulgaria also took charge of the third set late, forcing the Americans to either win or fail to match the finals.
The U.S. opened with a 12-7 lead and won comfortably. The Americans also took a big lead in the final set.
"Bulgaria ... had a great tournament and played really well," Hildebrand said. "I'm proud of my team and the way we fought through the hard moments tonight, especially in the second set. We battled to get the win."
Hildebrand has 13 kills, a block and an ace in the match. Nicole Fawcett added 13 points on 11 kills and two aces.
Stanford grad Cassidy Lichtman, who subbed in all five sets, also recorded a service ace for the Americans and had four receptions.
"I'm proud of everyone of our 16 athletes," U.S. coach Karch Kiraly said. "They all made contributions over the matches to do what we set out to do: to earn the right to play five more matches and stay in Japan for two more weeks."
China, coached by former U.S. national team coach Lang Ping, finished 9-0. Brazil and Serbia each finished with 23 points and Italy was fifth with 21 points.