By Jenny Peters and Andy J. Gordon
The top-ranked U.S. Women’s National Volleyball Team concluded its weekend of hosting the FIVB World Grand Prix Pool E with a dominant performance, winning matches against Germany, Japan and Turkey. The series of matches held at the Walter Pyramid on the Long Beach State University campus from June 17-19, 2016, was the last chance to see the national team on American soil before they compete for the gold medal in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, in August.
The FIVB World Grand Prix is the premier annual international women’s volleyball tournament. This year it also serves as the last major event for teams qualified to the 2016 Olympic Games to fine tune their systems. Both the American and Japanese squads are among the 12 teams who have qualified the Rio Games in August. This tournament also allows U.S. coach Karch Kiraly a chance to evaluate his roster and determine which players will be selected to compete in the Olympics.
The U.S.A. team trains in nearby Anaheim, located just a few minutes away from Long Beach. During the weekend of round-robin pool play, on Friday June 17, the U.S. team beat Germany in four sets (25-17, 24-26, 25-10, 25-23). Sunday’s match for the strong American team was a one-sided defeat of Turkey in three straight sets (25-21, 25-20, 25-16).
But the hot ticket was on Saturday, June 18. The U.S. squad faced fellow Olympic-qualified opponent Japan in front of a sellout crowd of 5000. Many in attendance wore patriotic red, white and blue clothing in support and came early, too. Nearly a thousand fans participated in the Vol-B-Que, a tailgating, volleyball-playing, food-truck-serving party on the lawn outside the arena. Once inside for the U.S. match against Japan, that boisterous crowd offered loud, raucous support for the American squad.
The home support helped the American women’s team to a sweep of the pesky Japanese squad 25-16, 25-23, 25-21. It was a dominant performance for the much-taller American team. While Japan made spectacular defensive plays throughout the match, the Americans’ size, quickness and overall skill were too much for the Japanese.
The Americans got strong performances from setter Alisha Glass, middle hitters Foluke Akinradewo and Rachael Adams, opposite Karsta Lowe and outside hitter Kim Hill. Look for each of them to be major contributors in the remaining GrandPrix matches as well as during the Olympics, in which the U.S. team is a favorite to win gold.
The American team now moves on to the final preliminary round weekend in Hong Kong. From there, the U.S. will most likely play for the GrandPrix championship in the final round in Bangkok, Thailand, taking place July 6-10. And then it’s time for the big show, as the American squad goes for the Olympic gold medal in Rio starting on August 7.