Friday, July 24, 2015

National Team | USA overcomes big Russian hitter to go 3-0 in Grand Prix Finals

Courtney Thompson: “We had no doubt”
  • USA def. Russia 3-1 (26-24, 19-25, 25-16, 25-22) [World Grand Prix Finals third round-robin]

It was the second set, and Nataliya Goncharova was on fire. Russia’s 6-4 opposite was on her way to a match-high 25 kills on 51 swings, and had her team up 16-10. That’s when USA setter Courtney Thompson and opposite Kelly Murphy entered on the double-substitution.

USA setter Courtney Thompson celebrates a point in a 3-1 World Grand Prix Finals win over Russia

“We could be down by ten, and we’re optimistic that something good is about to happen,” said Thompson. “We had no doubt, and we love those opportunities to make big plays.”

With Thompson dishing across the line, the Americans closed to 20-17 before she and Murphy rotated out. From there, Goncharova again took over, landing 3 more kills to tie the sets at 1-1.

In the USA huddle, USA head coach Karch Kiraly made some adjustments. “We changed our blocking scheme a little to try and slow #8 (Goncharova) down,” said Kiraly. “That’s a tough thing to do. She’s a handful.”

Sure enough, Goncharova began to fade, helped in part by improved USA serving and passing. “We just made little plays,” said Thompson. “We got on ‘em serving, we got on a few runs and we were able to terminate a few balls in transition.”

USA players celebrate a point in a 3-1 World Grand Prix Finals win over Russia

In the fourth set, Russia built a 22-20 lead. Middle blocker Tori Dixon’s quick kill sent her to the line, where she served the final four points of the set, including a match-clinching service ace. That brought the USA record to 3-0 in the round-robin World Grand Prix Final, with Brazil (2-1) and China (1-2) still on the schedule.

The Russians are a tall and young team. Ultimately, it was USA’s quick tempo that made the difference. Except for the second set, sharp passing allowed setters Molly Kreklow and Thompson to go time and again to Karsta Lowe and to the middles. Foluke Akinradewo finished with 13 kills on 24 attacks; Dixon added 8 kills on 18 swings. Once again, Lowe was USA’s scoring leader, tallying 19 kills on 38 attempts and adding 3 blocks.

USA players celebrate a point in a 3-1 World Grand Prix Finals win over Russia; Tori Dixon in center

Saturday features a rare USA/Brazil doubleheader. In Omaha, the two teams square off in the fourth round-robin match of the World Grand Prix Finals. Later in the evening, their split squads—including Krista Vansant and Jenna Hagglund—play for the gold in the Pan Am Games in Toronto.

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