Saturday, August 20, 2016

Olympic Games | USA wins the bronze

Despite ironies and questions, the Americans finish the Rio Olympics with a 7-1 record and the bronze medal

Women’s National Team Rio Olympics Results
  • 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: USA def. Netherlands (25-23, 25-27, 25-22, 25-19) [Bronze Medal]

USA's Kim Hill celebrates a point in a 3-1 Rio Olympics Bronze Medal win over Netherlands
-photo by FIVB

Silver brought tears. Bronze brings smiles.

There were plenty of ironies to go around as USA won a medal for the third straight Olympics, defeating Netherlands 3-1 (25-23, 25-27, 25-22, 25-19) to win the bronze at the Rio Olympics.

Four years ago in London—and four years before that in Beijing—the Americans ended their Olympics in sorrow, each time losing the gold medal match to Brazil. This time, USA’s only loss was a 5-set heartbreak at the hands of Serbia in the semifinals, a defeat that—in retrospect—raises a few questions about today’s victory.

USA's Foluke Akinradewo (16) celebrates with teammates Karsta Lowe and Alicia Glass
-photo by FIVB

First and foremost is the health of Foluke Akinradewo, USA’s all-everything middle. Akinradewo left the Serbia match with an injury early in the second set, never to return. But against Netherlands, she was back. And as usual, she was unstoppable, tying teammates Jordan Larson and Kim Hill for the lead with 13 kills. Larson and Hill each had 3 hitting errors—Akinradewo had none, hitting .529 for the match. Fans are sure to want to learn about the nature of Akinradewo’s Serbia injury, and why it was serious enough to take her out of that match, but not enough to keep her away today. As was obvious today, the USA needs her.

The second question is about USA’s serving mindset. Throughout these Olympics, the Americans gave away way too many points on service errors. That isn’t necessarily a problem as long as serves that do go in make it hard for an opponent to pass. Today against the Dutch, USA had plenty more service errors—15 in all—but landed 10 service aces (4 by Hill), its most of these Olympics. Beyond the aces, USA’s serves were more confident and better located than they were against the Serbians.

The third question is about USA’s right-side hitters. Kelly Murphy started every match these Olympics, and played generally well. But when the chips were down against both Serbia and Netherlands, it was Karsta Lowe who stepped in to shine. Frankly, Lowe’s height (6-4) and power seem better suited against taller blockers, and one wonders if she might have made an even bigger impact if she had entered the Serbia match sooner.

USA's Jordan Larson attacks against Netherlands' Lonneke Sloetjes
-photo by FIVB

Today’s bronze medal match turning point came in the third set. USA had won the first set, largely on the ability of outside hitter Hill to score off the hands of Dutch blockers, earning 4 of USA’s final 6 points in a 25-23 squeaker. Netherlands won the second set 27-25 by outscoring USA 7-3 down the stretch. With Holland leading 17-14 in the third, Larson blocked a Dutch attack, then shouted something across the net within easy earshot of Brazilian referee Paulo Turci. Turci showed Larson a yellow card, and two serves later, a net call against Larson made the score 19-16, Netherlands. But on the next three plays, Larson scored on a kill, a block and a kill to tie the score at 19. Tied at 21, Larson made a sensational dig, leading to another Hill kill. Hill’s service ace completed a 9-3 USA run and a 25-22 win.

Netherlands' Lonneke Sloetjes
-photo by FIVB
Set four started with another string of American service errors, but USA’s defense proved key. Lonneke Sloetjes, the leading attacker of these Olympics, finished with just 13 kills, well below her average. Largely because USA’s successful serves sent the Dutch scrambling, the Americans out-blocked Netherlands 13-6, particularly in key stretches of the final set. Akinradewo was unstoppable on the slide, and Hill ended the match as she began—two late kills and a bronze-clinching service ace to end the match.

Maybe the final irony was the final appearance of Courtney Thompson in a USA uniform. Throughout these Olympics, she’s been the team spokesperson, fiery bench leader and—on the court—designated server. In an Olympic Games where USA’s serving errors will be long-remembered, Thompson stepped to the line one last time in the fourth set, with USA leading 21-17. To that point, she was the only American—and one of only a handful of Rio Olympians—never to miss a serve. She knew this was assuredly her last moment ever with Team USA, after an astonishing career that seems to have earned the deepest respect of almost every teammate, coach and opponent.

USA Volleyball outgoing CEO Doug Beal hugs two-time Olympic medalist Courtney Thompson
-photo by FIVB

At these Olympics, all her teammates had proven themselves human. All had made one or more errors. All knew that—at the end of the match, at the end of the Olympics—Courtney would be the first to embrace them and the last to stick around to thanks USA’s fans. Now, at her last time at the service line, would she be the only one who never made an on-court mistake in Rio?

Her serve sailed long.

1 comment:

  1. the announcers gave Krista VanSant and other players who did not make the team kudos for staying and helping prepare this team for Olympics by acting as a practice squad.
    Good win, but the serving and passing errors throughout most of their matches drove me batty.


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