Friday, July 17, 2015

National Team | USA Women’s Volleyball Road to Rio [Part 3]

Which players are in the running for the 12 USA women’s volleyball roster spots for the 2016 Olympic Games? Today: middle blockers

USA middle blocker Christa Dietzen
With decision time for the 2016 Rio Olympic roster roughly a year away, we’re running through the probable Rio roster candidates, and suggesting what each has to do to make the final cut.

Be sure to see our first two entries, Road to Rio (Part 1) and Road to Rio (Part 2), for a discussion of the decision process and a rundown of setters, opposites, outside hitters and liberos. Today’s post will focus on middles, maybe the deepest position in the USA gym.


2012 London Olympics
  • Foluke Akinradewo (Plantation, FL, Stanford University)
  • Christa (Harmotto) Dietzen (Hopewell, PA, Penn State University
  • Danielle Scott-Arruda (Baton Rouge, Long Beach State)

2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic candidates
  • Akinradewo
  • Dietzen
  • Tori Dixon (Burnsville, MN, University of Minnesota)
  • Lauren Gibbemeyer (St Paul, MN, University of Minnesota)
  • Lauren Paolini (Ann Arbor, University of Texas)
  • Cursty Jackson (Los Angeles, University of Arizona)
  • Rachael Adams (Cincinnati, University of Texas)

Top to bottom, middles may be the strongest position on USA’s roster. Only three will go to Rio, and the battle for the third spot should be something to watch.

Foluke Akinradewo is the complete package: smart, great teammate, tall, quick, strong. Like all middles, her offense depends almost entirely on how well her teammates pass and dig: if her setter has few options, middle is usually not one of them. When she gets a good quick set, boom, it’s over. Like all middles, she can always up her serving game. Alinradewo was the second-best blocker (all countries) at the London Olympics, and has a clear path to the Rio roster.

Christa (Harmotto) Dietzen was also a London starter. She, too, is strong and smart, and is one of the team’s leaders, including captain of the gold medal 2014 World Championship team. She did not play professionally last winter as she recovered from a nagging knee injury. She is, however, on the roster for the final two World Grand Prix rounds, and we can measure her comeback by her performance in the grueling World Cup this August/September in Japan, where the top teams earn the first Olympic qualifying spots.

USA middle blocker Foluke Akinradewo

Tori Dixon and Lauren Gibbemeyer are both former Minnesota middles. This summer, they seem to be going head-to-head for one of the three middle slots in Rio. Dixon packs a wallop, and often muscles jousts to her advantage. Gibbemeyer is high-energy, converting quick sets with a whip arm and leading cheers after every point. Both are solid servers, so it might come down to intangibles. How would each fit the chemistry of the Rio team? Which one best handles defense after the serve? This battle could come down to the wire.

Lauren Paolini and Cursty Jackson are getting long looks this summer. Both are talented, but a trip to Rio could depend on whether there are injuries up the depth chart. Rachael Adams got lots of playing time last summer, but seems stuck among a wealth of talent. Any of these three might be in the mix for 2020.

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