The U.S. women’s volleyball team was two points away from playing for a gold medal.
Instead, the Americans can only hope for bronze.
The dream run through the Olympic tournament came to a crashing halt Thursday afternoon, ousted by Serbia 20-25, 25-17, 25-21, 16-25, 15-13 in the semifinals at Maracanazinho Arena.
“Right now, this loss is deeply disappointing. It cuts deep. It’s very painful, and that’s OK,” U.S. coach Karch Kiraly told the media in Rio after the match. “When you care that much, it’s going to. We’re going to process that some, we get some time to grieve. We signed up to do difficult things with USA and we’re going to come back harder the next 48 hours to fight for the bronze medal.”
Team USA, which lost in the gold medal match each of the previous two Olympics and has never won gold, will meet the loser between China or the Netherlands in the bronze medal match at noon Saturday. The gold medal match is set for 9:15 p.m.
It was a tough loss for Penn State’s two alumni on the team, setter Alisha Glass and middle hitter Christa Harmotto Dietzen. Dietzen, the team captain, plans to retire from the team after the Olympics, her second trip to the summer games, while Glass was playing in her first Olympics.
“This one stings,” Dietzen said. “But we had a great example set for us when (beach volleyball favorites and bronze medal winners) Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross responded really well after their semifinal loss, so we plan to take that same approach. We’re going after the bronze, that’s our next goal.”
Dietzen played the final four sets, posting two kills and three blocks. Glass gave out 39 assists to go with three digs.
Dietzen was pressed into service after starting middle Foluke Akinradewo injured her knee late in the first set. Akinradewo, who was a member of the Stanford team that lost to the Nittany Lions in the 2007 and 2008 NCAA finals, had already amassed five kills and three blocks before she left the match.
“It was tough when Foluke went down. I think we were a little distracted there for a second because we care so much for her,” Dietzen said, trying to hold back tears. “Obviously we wanted to turn this around, for her, for everybody that’s part of this program. We have a chance in the next 48 hours to do so.”
After controlling the match through most of the first set, the Americans seemed out of sorts for the next two frames, overwhelmed at times by Serbia’s serve and block as well as its top two offensive powers, Tijana Boskovic and Brankica Mihajovic, who had 18 and 17 kills, respectively.
Team USA finally rallied in the fourth to win it with ease and keep the dreams alive, then held the lead at 11-8 in the fifth. Serbia raced back and was up 13-12 after Milena Rasic’s fourth ace of the match. She missed her next serve to tie it at 13-13, leaving the U.S. two points away. But Rachel Adams put her serve into the net, and Boskovic’s final kill locked up the victory, guaranteeing Serbia its first Olympic medal in volleyball.
Karsta Lowe came off the bench to post 13 kills, Jordan Larson-Burbach added nine and Adams had eight to go with six blocks.
“We fought really hard and obviously it hurts that we couldn’t push a little more,” said libero Kayla Banwarth, who had nine digs. “It’s the journey that matters, not the result.”