Friday, August 12, 2016

Olympic Games | Too close for comfort as USA tops Italy 3-1

Even as USA struggles, it captures top Pool B seed behind Karsta Lowe's inspired performance

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, 1:05PM vs. China
  • Aug 16 Quarterfinals
  • Aug 18 Semifinals
  • Aug 20 Medal Finals

USA Opposite Karsta Lowe celebrates a point during a 3-1 win against Italy in the Rio Olympics
-photo by FIVB

An ugly win is still a win. And this one was plenty ugly.

Four days after overcoming 18 service errors to defeat upstart Netherlands in five sets, USA committed 19 more in just four sets to squeak out a 3-1 Rio Olympics victory over determined Italy, (25-22, 25-22, 23-25, 25-20). USA is now 4-0 in pool play, with a final preliminary match against China Sunday afternoon. USA clinched the top seed in Pool B when Serbia swept China 3-0 earlier this morning. That means the Americans will play the fourth-seeded team from Pool A in Tuesday’s quarterfinals, probably the winner of Sunday’s Japan/Argentina match.

Italy's Paoloa Egonu had 17 kills
-photo by FIVB
Against Italy, USA never found a sustained rhythm, haunted by the usual volleyball bugaboos: passing and serving. Italy’s servers kept USA passers on their heels, leading to Italy’s overwhelming 14-5 blocking advantage for the match. Time and again, Alicia Glass scrambled after poor passes, often sending sets into the teeth of double blocks. For the match, USA had 66 kills and 24 hitting errors on 151 attempts (.278).

So how did USA win? The Americans had 33 digs to Italy’s 22. The Italians tipped far too often, getting just 44 kills on 127 attempts and 19 errors (.197). And whenever the Americans were in-system, they did a great job converting, especially middles Foluke Akinradewo (13 kills) and Rachael Adams (9 kills). But the real difference was opposite Karsta Lowe.

Until today, Lowe had only seen spot service in the double-substitution. But late in the third set, coach Karch Kiraly inserted Lowe in a straight sub for Kelly Murphy. Lowe made an immediate impact—but from an unexpected place: her defense. Time and again she kept rallies alive by getting fists or fingers on balls headed toward an apparent Italian score. USA closed a 5-point third set deficit to just one, 22-23. Lowe then stepped to the service line … and promptly served out-of-bounds.

USA setter Alicia Glass (1) celebrates a Courtney Thompson service ace. Thompson and Kelly Murphy were the only Americans not to commit a service error against Italy.
-photo by FIVB

But Kiraly stuck with Lowe for the fourth set, and it paid off. She continued her outstanding defense, and cranked up her right-side attacks, finishing with 12 kills despite limited playing time. Kiraly also subbed Kelsey Robinson for starter Kim Hill, adding additional defense and firepower.

With a 22-20 fourth-set lead, Courtney Thompson stepped to the service line. Her first two serves forced bad Italian passes, leading to a Lowe kill and an Italy hitting error. Her third serve was an ace. Her fourth serve again pushed Italy on its heels, and the match ended as an Italian attack sailed out-of-bounds.
Team USA celebrates a 3-1 victory, sending its record to 4-0 in the Rio Olympics preliminary rounds.
-photo by FIVB

As we’ve noted before, servers must be aggressive in the Olympics. Far too many American errors, however, were serves into the net. USA’s athleticism and experience provided enough of a margin to overcome Italy, despite the poor service. That probably won’t work in the medal rounds against the likes of Russia or Brazil.


  • The crowd at Maracanãzinho Arena was loud and large. Continuing a pattern, the mostly-Brazilian crowd rooted for USA’s opponent, booing or making loud noises whenever USA served in crucial situations. By contrast, we couldn’t help but notice the nearly-empty soccer stadium as Sweden won a quarterfinal shootout with USA. Soccer and volleyball are Brazil’s national sports, but make no mistake: it’s men’s soccer they support, not women’s. 

1 comment:

  1. Nice to see Courtney Thompson on the court again, and making a difference.


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