Sunday, August 14, 2016

Olympic Games | USA stays undefeated with 3-1 win over China

Jordan Larson leads the way

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: Quarterfinals--USA vs. Japan, 10AM (Pacific)
  • Aug 18 Semifinals
  • Aug 20 Medal Finals

USA outside hitter Jordan Larson passes during a 3-1 Rio Olympics pool play win over China
-photo by FIVB

Back when Jordan Larson played high school volleyball, the rules were as clear: while on the court, no gum, no earrings, no necklaces.

Today in Rio, there was Larson in all her gum-chewing, earring-and-necklace-wearing glory, leading her USA team to a decisive 3-1 victory over China (22-25, 25-17, 25-19, 25-19). The win elevated the Americans to a 5-0 record in preliminary play, and sends them in the Rio Olympics quarterfinals as the top Pool B seed. USA will face Japan (2-3) Tuesday at 10AM (Pacific).

USA's Foluke Akinradewo had 13 kills against China
-photo by FIVB
With the match tied at 1-1, USA clung to a precarious 10-9 lead in the third set. USA had lost set one thanks to it Achilles heel these Olympics: a slew of service errors. Poor serving has affected every player in the lineup except Courtney Thompson, Kelly Murphy and Larson. So with that third set 10-9 advantage, Larson stepped to the line and served a vicious ace that completely handcuffed the Chinese defender. As she and her teammates celebrated, Larson lost her chewing gum, and China coach Jenny Lang Ping called timeout.

In the American huddle, coach Karch Kiraly smiled at his star outside hitter and said, “go ahead, go get more.” We had to assume he meant more gum.

China was supposed to contend for gold at these Olympics, behind the extraordinary arm of young outside hitter Ting Zhu. But the Chinese finished 2-3 in pool play, grabbing the final Pool B spot in the Medal Round, forced to face the Pool A winner Brazil in Tuesday's quarterfinals.

Against the Americans, Zhu seemed to attack at will, ending with a match-high 19 kills on 40 attempts and just two errors (.425). But her supporting cast was not the Chinese team of recent years, with particularly poor play from its opposites, who combined for just 8 kills and 5 errors on 23 attempts. Elite international teams simply must have go-to opposites in big matches.

USA Opposite Kelly Murphy digs a ball against China as teammate Alicia Glass looks on
-photo by FIVB

USA’s opposite, Kelly Murphy, had a solid match, with 11 kills, two aces and strong defense. Foluke Akinradewo showed again why she is the world’s best middle, recording 13 kills on both good sets and bad. Time and again, Akinradewo calmly took whatever setter Alicia Glass gave her, punishing the ball when she could, and finding the floor with pushes and tips when nothing else was available. Kelsey Robinson, subbing for Kim Hill, had her best match of the Olympics. The Chinese dared her to hit line, and she did, totaling 11 kills and just one error on 22 attempts (.454).

But the star of the match was Larson. She tallied 13 kills and just 3 errors on 23 attempts (.435), and added two aces and 14 digs. She had no serve-receive errors, and sent 10 of what international scorekeepers call “Excellent” passes to her setter.

USA setter Courtney Thompson fires up the crowd at the USA/China match
-photo by FIVB

More important, Larson displayed leadership, something she usually concedes on Team USA to either Christa Dietzen or Courtney Thompson. In the world of international professional volleyball, Larson has long been among the world’s elite. As she and her teammates chase Olympic gold, it’d be the perfect time for Larson to break out all the gum, necklaces and earrings she can muster.

  • Larson wears her necklace in memory of her mother, Kae, who died of breast cancer in 2009.
  • Throughout these Olympics, coaches have not been shy about requesting video replay to challenge referees’ calls. It was highly unusual, then, that the first video challenge in today’s match didn’t come until more than halfway through the third set. China coach Jenny Lang Ping correctly saw that an attack had grazed Kelly Murphy’s finger, which changed the score to 17-14 in favor of USA. Lang Ping made 3 more challenges, winning one and losing two. Karch Kiraly never asked for a replay.
  • With USA trailing 12-9 in the first set, Kiraly called a timeout. “Just one thing,” he told his team. “Slow things down. You don’t need to get all the points back at once.” After a beat, he continued. “Make that two things.” After pointing out the obvious, that his team was serving terribly, he said, “you can choose to write a different story at any time.” After making six service errors that first set, USA made only six more the rest of the match.
  • And endless string of bad serves probably cost Rachael Adams her starting middle blocker spot, at least for the moment. Adams entered the match with 17 service errors in her first four Olympic matches, and added two more in the first set. Kiraly replaced her the rest of the match with captain Christa Dietzen, who immediately missed her first serve, and another in the fourth. Kiraly used Courtney Thompson as a designated server in the final three sets. Thompson—who has no service errors in the Rio Olympics—continued that error-free streak against China, driving all five of her float serves into China’s libero, Li Lin.
  • USA finished Pool B with a 5-0 record and 14 points and will face the fourth-place Pool A team, Japan (2-3, 6 points.) Netherlands (4-1, 11 points) was second and will face South Korea (3-2, 9 points) in the quarterfinals. Serbia (3-2, 10 points) finished third and will face Russia (4-1, 12 points). China (2-3, 7 points) is fourth, and meets Pool A winner Brazil (5-0, 15 points).

No comments:

Post a Comment

[It's okay to comment as "Anonymous," but please feel free to share your name and/or alias.]

Have your friends discovered Volleyblog Seattle? Number of unique visits: