Sunday, July 12, 2015

National Team | USA overcomes passing woes to defeat Serbia

Courtney Thompson’s defense shines as USA now 6-0 in World Grand Prix pool play
  • USA def. Serbia 3-2 (25-18, 24-26, 30-28, 19-25, 15-9)

USA captain Courtney Thompson (3) pulls a pass from the net for a one-handed set against Serbia. USA defeated Serbia 3-2 in a second round World Grand Prix match in  Kaliningrad, Russia. -FIVB

When passing is poor, setters have few options. When a team has few offensive options, its opponent can smother its attacks.

For four sets, USA’s below-par passing forced setters Molly Kreklow and Courtney Thompson to keep their offense simple. And, simply put, the Serbians were there to either block or dig a host of American attacks.

With just one set to spare, USA made a change and picked up its game, finally prevailing 3-2 (25-18, 24-26, 30-28, 19-25, 15-9) in Kaliningrad, Russia. USA moves to 6-0 in pool play of the 2015 World Grand Prix.

Courtney Thompson prepares to serve against Serbia
Both Kim Hill and Megan (Hodge) Easy struggled with Serbian serves, though Easy had it toughest. Passing has always been the weakest part of the hard-hitting Olympian’s game, but Easy’s serve receiving became a bigger liability as the match wore on. Only after head coach Karch Kiraly inserted Kelsey Robinson after a fourth-set timeout did the Americans rediscover their rhythm.

Team captain Courtney Thompson was effective during her rotations in all five sets. In the final frame, she led USA on a 7-4 run to put Serbia away. Throughout the match, her defense was stellar, including a couple of big-time digs that kept long rallies alive.

Recent UCLA grad Karsta Lowe was once again the American star, connecting for 17 kills from both the right side and back row. Like many top international hitters, Lowe attacks hard on nearly every attempt. USA has several hitters who resort to roll shots or off-speed attacks when power might be the better option.

Kayla Banwarth continues to make a case for a Rio roster spot with exceptional play at libero. She had 6 digs, most of any player.

The third and final preliminary round of the World Grand Prix is next weekend. The USA faces a tough trio in China, Japan and Thailand. Like the USA, China and Brazil are 6-0 so far in pool play. Japan is 3-3, but two of its losses were to China and Brazil, and its third loss was to Italy (4-2) in 5 sets.

USA has 25 eligible players from which to choose the 14 who will go to Hong Kong. (Expect Thompson to be on that roster). The final round is in two weeks in Omaha, where the top six teams will meet for the championship.

USA celebrates a point against Serbia.

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