Sports

American women close to clinching volleyball berth in finals

 

Stanford grad Foluke Akinradewo and the world's No. 1 ranked United States women's senior national team return to Asia this weekend to continue competition in the FIVB World Grand Prix. The Americans compete in Pool H of the preliminary round that begins Friday in Hong Kong.

Team USA, with a 5-1 record and 15 points, ranks third in the 12-team Group 1 field. The U.S. takes on No. 11 Germany (0-6, 0 points) on Friday, followed by No. 14 Netherlands on Saturday and host China on Sunday.

The World Grand Prix is the premier annual international women's volleyball tournament. This year it serves as the last major event for teams qualified to the 2016 Olympic Games to fine tune their systems. Team USA will face two Olympic-qualified teams this weekend in Netherlands and China, who are among the 12 teams that will participate at the Rio Games in August.

Team USA will challenge Germany for the third time this year, as they have been paired in all three preliminary weekends. Germany is searching for its first win of the tournament. Netherlands ranks fifth in the standings with both its losses coming at the hands of undefeated Russia.

The Americans last faced the Netherlands during the 2014 FIVB World Championship, which resulted in an American sweep. China, ranked No. 2 in the world, is one of two undefeated teams in the World Grand Prix and is atop the standings with a one-point edge over Russia.

After falling to No. 2 China in four sets to conclude the opening weekend in Ningbo, China, the U.S. regained momentum last week by winning all three matches while playing at home in Long Beach.

Team USA defeated Germany in four sets to open Pool E, which marked the Americans' second win over the Germans in as many weeks. The U.S. also swept Olympic-qualified Japan and No. 10 Turkey while in Long Beach.

For the third consecutive World Grand Prix weekend, Team USA will have a slightly new roster look. U.S. Women's National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly and his staff have chosen four middles, three outside hitters, three setters, two opposites and two liberos to represent Team USA as the defending FIVB World Grand Prix champions.

In addition to Akinradewo, the three other middles are Rachael Adams, Alexis Crimes, and Christa Dietzen. The outside hitters are Kim Hill, Jordan Larson and Kelsey Robinson.

The three setters chosen are Alisha Glass, Carli Lloyd and Courtney Thompson. The two opposites are Nicole Fawcett and Karsta Lowe.

Liberos selected are Kayla Banwarth and Natalie Hagglund.

By adjusting rosters each World Grand Prix weekend, as well as each match through the World Grand Prix, the coaching staff has been able to evaluate players with different combinations in preparation for the Olympic Games to be held in August in Rio de Janeiro.

— Bill Kauffman/USA volleyball

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