Saturday, July 18, 2015

National Team | USA drops 5-set thriller to China in final World Grand Prix prelim

Courtney Thompson leads team to brink of an upset on China’s home court
  • China def. USA 3-2 (22-25, 25-13, 25-22, 19-25, 15-12)

USA's Courtney Thompson sets against China during a World Grand Prix pool match in Hong Kong

It was the fifth set, USA led China 5-4. During the run of play, a China first-touch overpass broke the plane of the net, where USA middle Christa Dietzen roofed it back for an apparent point. But the referee called blocking interference, and gave the point to China. Replays showed the ball was clearly on the USA side, but coach Karch Kiraly did not call for a replay.

With Molly Kreklow rotating in for fifth-set starting setter Courtney Thompson, USA dropped the next four points, to trail 9-5. More than once, outside hitter Kelsey Robinson delivered offspeed attacks instead of hard hits. In each case, the Chinese answered with punishing kills.

Foluke Akinradewo (16), Courtney Thompson (3) and Kelly Murphy (12)
Robinson, who is among a group of 5 or 6 outside hitters with an eye on the roster for the Rio Olympics next summer, had 13 kills for the match. That was the most of any USA player … but not much for a five-set match. Middle Foluke Akinradewo finished with 12 kills; outside hitter Jordan Larson-Burbach and opposite Karsta Lowe each tallied 10.

China was the home team in Hong Kong, and cheers in the packed arena were led by the public address announcer. In that din, strong serving by Kim Hill brought the fifth set score to 11-9 China, but a Hill service error and a Robinson passing error put the score out of reach, sending the set and match to China.

Thompson, the former Washington All-American rotated in the first three sets, and started the final two. She effectively ran a quick tempo offense, and made several stellar defensive plays, including a monster dig early in the fifth set.

China (9-0 in pool play) and USA (8-1) are among six teams to qualify for next week’s World Grand Prix Finals in Omaha. USA will face Russia in the first match next week. Brazil and Italy have also qualified. The sixth team will be either Japan, Serbia or Germany.

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