The U.S. women’s volleyball team is still perfect at the Olympics.
With some help from its bench, the Americans held off Italy in four sets to improve to 4-0 and remain at the top of its pool.
Under the direction of setter and Penn State alumnus Alisha Glass, Team USA prevailed 25-22, 25-22, 23-25, 25-20 at Maracanazinho Arena.
The U.S., the world’s top-ranked team heading into Rio, has 11 points in the Pool B standings. Serbia (3-1), which lost to the U.S. on Wednesday, has nine points for second place. The Americans have already clinched a berth in the quarterfinal knockout round, and a win against China, ranked third in the world, on Sunday will wrap up the top spot in the pool. A loss and Serbia win would give the Serbs the top seed. The match is set for 4:05 p.m.
Glass directed the offense to a .278 hitting performance, giving out 45 running sets to go with a pair of kills.
Foluke Akinradewo’s 13 kills paced the Americans, with 12 kills each for Kim Hill and Karsta Lowe, who provided a spark from the bench. Kelsey Robinson, who also jumped onto the court later in the match, added eight kills.
“I take a lot of pride in being able to be a spark plug and energy maker,” Robinson said. “Me and Karsta and everyone in the (substitution) box, we all have the built up energy and ready to go. Typically I just think if I can pass well and be in system, that is my job — maybe to turn a couple balls on defense. Alisha was getting me getting me good one-on-ones and made it easy to score.”
Kayla Banworth posted a team-high 10 digs. The U.S. also got help off the bench from backup setters Carli Lloyd, who gave out five running sets, and Courtney Thompson, whose ace secured the final point of the match.
“Everybody had really nice contributions today,” U.S. coach Karch Kiraly said. “We have a team that has a lot of people who have played a lot over the last two, three seasons. We have a great deal of trust in them to come in. Kelsey was really good off the bench, Karsta was good off the bench. One of Courtney’s job is to be ready to come in and serve some tough serves off the bench with the ace and the near ace. And once we took Kim out, she was ready to be a serving sub and she came in and served an ace. We needed every one of those points in the fourth set. Carli made some amazing plays when it was her chance. And (Penn State graduate) Christa Dietzen, who did not get in the game but serves as our captain, provides some really valuable leadership during the timeouts and generally throughout the match. Even when people do not get in the match, they make an impact.”
Paola Ogechi Egonu’s 17 kills and three blocks, and Anna Danesi’s four blocks paced the Italians.
Team USA struggled in two main areas — serving, with three aces against 19 errors, including seven for Rachel Adams, and blocking, with a 14-5 edge for the Italians. Italy had only one ace but also missed only 10 serves. The Americans, however, had the stronger offense with a 66-44 lead in kills, with Italy hitting .197.
The win also provided a little extra inspiration for Glass, Robinson and Adams, who play professionally for Conegliano in the Italian Serie A1 league. Three members of the Italian team are also on that team, and they won the league title last spring.
“I know them all pretty well,” Robinson said. “It is fun to play people you know, familiar faces.”