Sports

Team USA going for volleyball gold at FIVB Grand Prix

 

Outside hitter Kim Hill recorded a match-high 17 points, including five aces, and the world's top-ranked U.S. women's senior national volleyball team swept No. 4 Russia, 25-20, 25-23, 25-14, on Saturday to advance to the FIVB World Grand Prix title match in Bangkok, where it will have a chance to defend its title.

Rachael Adams contributed 13 points with seven kills on 12 errorless attacks, a team-best four blocks and two aces for the American, who will meet Brazil for the Grand Prix title on Sunday.

Brazil has won 10 of the previous 23 editions, while defending champion Team USA is going for its seventh World Grand Prix title.

Outside hitter Jordan Larson tacked on 12 kills on 36 attacks with two errors in the victory over Russia, which will meet the Netherlands for third place.

Stanford grad Foluke Akinradewo charted eight points with six kills on 10 errorless attacks and two aces. Opposite Kelly Murphy pocketed five kills on 17 swings and two blocks for seven points. Karsta Lowe turned in four kills on six attacks and setter Alisha Glass rounded out the scoring with one kill.

"Russia is a very physical team," Akinradewo said. "They have great, strong attackers and blockers especially. I think our pin hitters did a really good job adjusting throughout the match after Russia got a few good blocks in. They were making smart decisions, hitting high off the block. As a whole, our team had a really good service run from out of system and we gave ourselves chances to work on our blocking defense that we have been working on all summer."

Russia used four consecutive blocks to take an early 7-4 advantage in the opening set, but the U.S. responded with a 5-0 run of its own to establish a 9-7 lead and only let Russia score on its serve once the rest of the set for a 25-20 victory. Hill scored seven points in the opening set, including two aces.

Russia led 14-10 in the second set, but Hill established dominance at the serving line with three aces as part of a 6-0 run to give the Americans a 16-14 lead that it would not relinquish in a 25-23 victory.

Hill had eight points in the second set. Team USA controlled the entire third set by building a 13-4 lead thanks to a 6-0 run with two aces by Akinradewo and two points from Adams. The Americans closed out the set at 25-14.

"Russia is one of the great programs in the world of volleyball. They always have really strong women's national teams and men's national teams," U.S. coach Karch Kiraly said. "Volleyball is a popular sport there, so it is always great to face off across the net. We have different styles and those are nice contrasts. So it was nice to face a very good team like that as it makes us better."

Hill also contributed six digs and 10 excellent receptions on 19 errorless chances, while libero Kayla Banwarth tallied six excellent receptions on 13 attempts and a team-best nine digs. Larson was credited with six digs and six excellent receptions.

Team USA converted .426 percent of its attacks in points with a .333 hitting efficiency (46-10-108). Glass turned in 29 excellent running sets on 68 set attempts and Cal's Carli Lloyd added seven running sets on 17 chances off the bench. The American defense limited the Russians to a .205 hitting efficiency (25-7-88) and .284 kill percent.

The U.S. held a 9-1 advantage in aces to offset Russia's 14-7 block margin. Team USA held a sizable 46-25 advantage in kills and out-dug Russia 32-22. The Americans committed 16 errors in the match compared to the Russians' 13.

"Serving is something we have been working on, that just for this team, but all season long," Hill said. "I am glad it worked well for us today. We just focused on keeping it strong and hard every time, and it helped us a lot."

Kiraly said that the gold-medal match against Brazil will be good for both teams in preparing for the ultimate test in August, the Olympic Games.

"There a quite a number of very good teams in the Rio Olympic Games – Brazil, Russia, China, Serbia, Italy, Netherlands and USA," Kiraly said. "It will be a great tournament, and we are excited to play Brazil. Last year they had some players rest, so we really have seen the true Brazil since 2014. So this will be great for both teams in our last tournament before the Rio Olympics that start in a few weeks."

The U.S. has won 24 of its last 26 World Grand Prix matches, with both losses at the hands of China in pool play in 2015 and 2016.

Overall, the Americans have won their last nine World Grand Prix matches. Team USA has won the last four World Grand Prix matches with Russia and went up 13-12 in the tournament series.

The World Grand Prix serves as the last major event for teams qualified to the 2016 Olympic Games to fine tune their systems. All but Thailand competing in the World Grand Prix Finals have qualified for the Olympic Games next month.

— USA volleyball

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