Thursday, August 18, 2016

Olympic Games | No Gold: Serbia upsets USA in semis

Despite extraordinary Karsta Lowe-led comeback, serving errors doom USA; Foluke Akinradewo goes out with injury

Women’s National Team Schedule
  • Aug 06: USA def. Puerto Rico 3-0 (25-17, 25-22, 25-17)
  • Aug 08: USA def. Netherlands 3-2 (18-25, 25-18, 21-25, 25-20, 15-8)
  • Aug 10: USA def. Serbia 3-1 (25-17, 21-25, 25-18, 25-19)
  • Aug 12: USA def. Italy 3-1 (25-22, 25-22, 23-25, 25-20)
  • Aug 14: USA def. China 3-1 (22-25, 25-17, 25-19, 25-19)
  • Aug 16: USA def. Japan 3-1 (25-16, 25-23, 25-22) [Quarterfinals]
  • Aug 18: Serbia def. USA 3-2 (20-25, 25-17, 25-21, 16-25, 15-13) [Semifinals]
  • Aug 20, 9AM: vs. Netherlands [Bronze Medal match]

USA's Jordan Larson
-photo by FIVB

In the end, the ball found the net.

With USA and Serbia tied at 13 in the fifth set, Rachael Adams stepped to the service line. As she has so many times these Olympics, Adams launched a float serve that headed straight into the net. One lost rally later, number one ranked USA lost 3-2 (20-25, 25-17, 25-21, 16-25, 15-13) in the Rio semifinals, again denied its first ever Olympic gold. USA will play Netherlands Saturday morning for the bronze. Serbia faces China for the gold.

Throughout five grueling sets, both teams put together long streaks of confident, aggressive play. In set one, USA trailed 17-18, but finished on an 8-2 run behind the serving of Kelly Murphy and the slide combination of Alicia Glass to Foluke Akinradewo.

Before her injury against Serbia, USA's Foluke Akinradewo had the highest hitting percentage of any player in the Rio Olympics.
-photo by FIVB

In the second set, a string of USA net violations gave Serbia an early 7-3 lead, forcing coach Karch Kiraly to call a timeout. During that break, a USA athletic trainer could be seen talking with Akinradewo, who had apparently injured her knee toward the end of the first set. Four points later, with USA trailing 9-5, Akinradewo was replaced by Christa Dietzen and never returned. Dietzen proved a strong blocker and an emotional leader, but was never the offensive weapon that Akinradewo can be. USA kept pace for a while, before surrendering a final 7-3 run.

The third set started with more of the same, as Serbia rolled to an 8-1 lead. Midway through the set, Kiraly inserted Karsta Lowe for Murphy and Kelsey Robinson for Kim Hill. Two consecutive Lowe kills brought the USA within two points, 20-22. But two Serbian kills and a Dietzen service error closed the score.

For most of the rest of the match, Lowe was on fire. In the fourth set, she twice had three kills in four rallies, as Glass had the confidence to set the right side time and again. USA won set four going away, 25-16.

USA's Kelsey Robinson had 6 kills and 5 hitting errors against Serbia
-photo by FIVB

By the fifth set, Lowe seemed to be USA’s only option. She added six more kills and a block in the final frame, as USA took a 10-7 lead. But Robinson began to struggle, hitting into a block to make it 10-8, and making a series of sloppy digs and passes in a long rally that brought Serbia to within one point, at 11-10. With the score tied at 12, Serbia’s Milena Rasic served an ace, then served the next ball into the net. That brought Rachael Adams to the line at 13-13.

We are huge Rachael Adams fans. She climbed from way down the depth charst this quad to claim the third and final middle blocker spot, then passed Dietzen to start most of USA’s Olympic matches. Adams is brainy, athletic and a top-flight team player. But in Rio, she had 23 service errors over seven matches, including 4 today, six more for the tournament than any other player on any other team.

Of course, Adams wasn’t alone. For the match, USA totaled 18 service errors, the third time in Rio it tallied either 18 or 19 errors. Overall, Hill, Glass and Akinradewo all had far too many service mistakes at these Olympics. On the other hand, Jordan Larson had just 8 errors in 120 attempts, Kelly Murphy had only 8 errors in 95 attempts, and Courtney Thompson never missed a single serve in 17 attempts in this, her final Olympics.

Setter Alicia Glass and Outside Hitter Kim Hill will play for a bronze medal on Saturday.
-photo by FIVB

At the elite level, the top teams are separated by the thinnest of margins. In the end, even with horrible serving and the loss of their best player, USA fell just two points short. Serbia now advances to its first-ever Olympic gold medal match against China. USA will play Netherlands for the bronze.

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