The USA women kept themselves in the driver’s seat with a four-set victory over Korea on Wednesday in the Road to Paris qualifier in Lodz, Poland.
Now, at 4-0, they get a day off and then play three matches in a row against Italy (4-0), Poland (3-1) and Germany (3-0). If the USA wins two of the three, they are but assured a spot in the Paris 2024 Olympics. The USA won the gold medal at the last Olympics in Tokyo.
We’ve got the toughest matches, on paper, yet to come, with the highest-ranked teams, Italy, Poland and Germany,” USA coach Karch Kiraly said.
Entering the tournament, the USA was ranked No. 2 in the world, Italy No. 5, Poland No. 7 and Germany No. 12.
Wednesday, the Americans lost the first set but then overpowered Korea (0-4) 20-25, 25-17, 25-19, 25-17. Jordan Thompson led with 20 kills, three blocks, three aces and nine digs.
Both outsides were strong as Kelsey Robinson had 12 kills, a block and a match-high 16 digs. Jordan Larson had nine kills, two blocks, an ace and 14 digs. Libero Justine Wong-Orantes had 13 digs.
“We’ve put together a strong passing lineup with Jordan and Kelsey and Justine,” Kiraly said. “They’ve been doing a nice job of keeping our offense going.
“That’s a big focus of ours, to play the strongest side-out game possible because if we side out at a nice level — earned side out, not counting the points we get when the other team serves out — but earned side outs, if we can do that on a really consistent basis then we’re going to be in any match, even if we happen to find ourselves struggling to score points when we serve, block and defend.”
Dana Rettke ahd nine kills, two blocks and an ace and setter Lauren Carlini had three kills and a block. Her team hit .316.
“Korea threw a lot at us with their scrappy defense and tough serves,” Thompson said. “We just need to settle in and find our rhythm after the first set.”
Korea’s Sohwi Kang had 13 kills and Seungju Peo had 11. Yeongyeon had 14 digs.
Also Wednesday in Pool C, Italy swept Colombia (0-4), Thailand (1-3) stunned Poland in five and Germany got past Slovenia (0-3) in five. Thailand’s Ajcharaporn Kongyot had 19 kills, while Magdalena Stysiak had 24 for Poland.
In Pool A, Canada pulled off a stunning five-set upset of China in Beijing, the Dominican Republic swept Mexico and Serbia beat Czechia in four. Canada got 26 kills from Kiera Van Ryk and 23 from former BYU star Alexa Gray. China’s Yingying Li had 25 kills, three blocks and two aces.
In Pool B, Brazil swept Puerto Rico and Japan did the same to Bulgaria.
The USA opened with a sweep of Colombia on Saturday and then swept Thailand on Sunday. Tuesday, the Americans beat Slovenia in four.
“So far the group has been doing a really nice job here,” Kiraly said. “We took care of business against Colombia, and then we saw them take a set off Germany and they were up 22-20 in the second. So we’ve seen all kinds of interesting things happen both in our qualifier here in Poland but also elsewhere, like Canada beating China in five on their home court and Thailand today beating Poland in five on their home court. Anything can happen here.
“We are completely understanding how any opponent can put together a great game or several games and even a match. We’re ready for anything and you’ve got to give a lot of credit to the group that’s here.”
All matches can be seen on Volleyball World TV. Use “VOLLEYBALLMAG” for a discount.