Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - August 23, 2013

Title on the line

Stanford grad leads Team USA into finals of FIVB Grand Prox

by Rick Eymer

Kristin Richards Hildebrand has been here before. The Stanford grad has experienced the highs and lows of the FIVB Grand Prix Final Round, which gets under way on Wednesday at the Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center in Sapporo, Japan.

Hildebrand helped the United States women's senior national volleyball team win the gold medal at last year's event. She's also been on the losing end, before the Americans went on their three-year run which they hope to extend to four this time around.

Following her All-American junior year with the Cardinal, Hildebrand joined the national team that finished eighth in the Grand Prix. She's also been on teams that have finished fifth and third.

These days, Hildebrand is the unquestioned leader, the team captain, of a group of younger Americans looking to establish their own identities.

These are the competitions that help establish those identities. No one has been through more than Hildebrand, who joined the U.S. national program in 2000, as team captain of the U.S girls' youth national team that played in Switzerland.

"Kristin is a member of our leadership council," First-year U.S. coach Karch Kiraly said. "She is well-respected by her peers, as are the other members of the leadership council in terms of looking out for teammates and being somebody who consistently brings great effort into every training, every rehearsal we have, every scrimmage we have. Kristin genuinely celebrates the accomplishments and successes in her teammates, more than herself. That is something that many on this team admire in a leader."

Team USA opens the final round against a familiar opponent in defending Olympic champions Brazil, the only team to beat the Americans during Grand Prix play this season.

While the U.S. has won the last three World Grand Prix titles, Brazil has finished second in the last three events after having won the event three years in a row (2007-2009) for its record eight titles.

Since that loss, the U.S. has won six straight to get to this rematch. The Americans are 47-5 in FIVB Grand Prix matches since 2010 and are seeking to become the first team to win four consecutive titles.

It will be no easy task. Host Japan knows a lot about the U.S., having played the Americans four times over the past six weeks. The teams scrimmaged together leading to the final round. China, the only undefeated team during the preliminary round, is coached by former U.S. coach Lang Ping. Serbia and Italy also stand as obstacles for the Americans.

"We've had challenging pools every weekend and I'm excited to get to the finals," Hildebrand said.

The Americans conclude the final round against Japan, which has the most storied rivalry with the U.S. The two teams have met 225 times since 1983 with Japan holding a slim 113-102 series advantage. Team USA is the only country to have played more than two of its Final Round opponents. The U.S. defeated Serbia and Japan on its opponents' home court, while losing to Brazil in Brazil. Serbia also lost to China in five sets during the preliminary round.

Hildebrand and Kelly Murphy finished the preliminary round ranked 18th in scoring with 96 points each, while Kim Hill added 80 points for 31st place.

Murphy ranked second in Best Spiker with a 45.00 kill percent, just 0.19 behind leader Risa Shinnabe of Japan. Hildebrand ranked fourth in Best Spiker with a 44.44 kill percent.

Alisha Glass contributed 5.79 running sets average for sixth-best in Best Setter during the preliminary round. Christa Harmotto ranked as the Americans' top blocker with a 0.65 block average for 11th place in Best Blocker.

Cardinal grad Cassidy Lichtman has been an effective contributor off the bench for the Americans.

Women's water polo

Stanford junior Ashley Grossman scored six goals, including four straight to snap a tie, and the United States' women's junior national water polo team downed New Zealand, 12-5, on Wednesday in Volos, Greece to complete group play undefeated of the FINA Junior World Championships.

The Americans open the elimination tournament on Friday against Hungary.

Cardinal junior and U.S. team captain Kiley Neushul added three goals for the Americans, who have outscored their first three opponents by a combined 34-14.

Unbeaten Australia holds a 56-10 scoring edge over its opponents.

"New Zealand played us extremely tough throughout the match," U.S. coach Dan Klatt said. "It was good preparation for the remaining games."

In an 8-5 victory over Italy, Grossman scored the go-ahead goal with 4:11 remaining to play in the first half and Neushul scored the first goal of the second half to extend the lead.

Grossman and Neushul each scored three goals on opening day as the Americans earned a 14-4 victory over Kazashstan.

Grossman put the Americans ahead, 1-0, about two minutes into the match and Neushul followed with a pair.

Neushul was Stanford's third-leading goal scorer in the spring, with 50. Grossman, who missed the first half of the season with an injury, scored 20.

Men's tennis

Former Menlo School star Dmitry Tursunov downed Alex Bogomolov, Jr., 6-3, 7-5, in the third round of the Winston Salem Open being played at Wake Forest University on Wednesday.

Tursunov, seeded 13th in the tournament, met Austria's Jurgen Melzer, the ninth seed, in Thursday's quarterfinal. Results can be found in the online edition.

Tursunov reached his third consecutive quarterfinal and has won 11 of his last 13 matches after winning just four of his previous 11 matches.

Before reaching the semifinal of the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., Tursunov failed to advance beyond the second round in 11 straight tournaments.

He last reached a quarterfinal at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in February, when he was ranked 119th.

Tursunov was ranked 150th when he appeared at the 2012 Comerica Bank Challenger in Aptos, where he retired in the second round to eventual champion Steve Johnson.

He won a pair of challengers in successive weeks in Turkey last September as he worked to return to form.

Since first breaking into the top 100 at No. 99 on Sept. 29, 2003, Tursunov has been in and out of the top 100 seven times. His most recent breakthrough came in February of this season.

He's guaranteed $14,870 for reaching the quarterfinal. The tournament champion will receive $76,900.

In doubles action, Stanford grad Scott Lipsky, along with his partner Santiago Gonzaez of Mexico, lost their quarterfinal match to Germany's Andre Begemann and Martin Emmrich, 6-4, 6-4.

By reaching the quarterfinal, Lipsky and Gonzalez share prize money of $6,140 and receive 45 ranking points.

USA Volleyball and USA Water Polo contributed to this report.

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