After falling essentially one set victory shy of qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games at the FIVB World Cup earlier this month, the U.S. women's national volleyball team embarks on its second chance for qualification at the NORCECA Women's Continental Championship, which begin Sunday in Michoacan, Mexico.
Stanford grad Foluke Akinradewo and 13 others compete at the biennial NORCECA Championship. The top four teams will qualify for the NORCECA Olympic Qualification Tournament set to take place in January at a site to be determined.
"We learned some valuable lessons during the World Cup several weeks ago, and plan to use that knowledge to make us better at the NORCECA Continental Championships next week in Mexico," U.S. Women's National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly said. "This is part of a journey filled with challenges, including the process of qualifying, all leading toward the Rio Olympic Games. Ultimately, the more challenges we learn to overcome and even to embrace, the better team we can become."
Team USA will compete in Pool A of the NORCECA Championship and opens against Costa Rica on Sunday at 11 a.m. PT, followed by Canada on Monday at 4 p.m. PT and Cuba on Tuesday at 4 p.m. PT.
The winner of Pool A and Pool B (Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Trinidad & Tobago) advance directly to the semifinals on Oct. 1 while the second- and third-place teams in each pool compete in crossover quarterfinals on Sept. 30. The medal round and final classification match are set for Oct. 2.
The U.S. remains ranked first in the world by the FIVB, while Dominican Republic is ranked seventh after it finished seventh in the World Cup. Puerto Rico is the next highest ranked NORCECA team at No. 15, followed by No. 16 Canada, No. 26 Cuba and No. 27 Mexico. Trinidad & Tobago is ranked No. 34, one step ahead of Costa Rica.
The 13 other members includes setters Alisha Glass and Molly Kreklow, liberos Kayla Banwarth and Natalie Hagglund, opposites Nicole Fawcett and Karsta Lowe, middle blockers Rachael Adams, Tori Dixon and Lauren Gibbemeyer and outside hitters Megan Easy, Jordan Larson-Burbach, Kelsey Robinson, and Krista Vansant.
The U.S. has won the NORCECA Championship seven times (1981, 1983, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2011, 2013), including the two most recent events held in 2013 at Omaha, Nebraska, and 2011 at Caguas, Puerto Rico. Further, the U.S. has earned the silver medal 11 times - all with Cuba winning the gold as part of its record 13 NORCECA titles.
Team USA has won the bronze medal three times and missed the podium just twice in the 23 previous editions. Mexico won the first two NORCECA Championships in 1969 and 1971, while Dominican Republic is the only other country to win the event with its title in 2009.
At the recent FIVB World Cup, Team USA finished with the bronze medal behind gold-medalist China and silver-medalist Serbia. Only the top two teams from the first Olympic qualification event earned berths to Rio.
The U.S., which finished 9-2, swept China on the third day of the tournament. However, the Americans lost a tough five-set match to Serbia.
A U.S. five-set win over Serbia with the same results the rest of the tournament would have placed the Americans with the silver and a berth in the Olympics.