The USA women lost the first set Sunday afternoon but no matter. They subsequently ran away from China on the final day of Pool B play in the Rio Olympics to finish 5-0 and served notice that they are the team to beat once elimination play begins Tuesday.
“At the beginning, I wasn’t at all convinced that anyone could go undefeated,” USA coach Karch Kiraly said. “These are the teams, China, Netherlands, Serbia, Italy, with long histories of success. We are happy to come out first, to come out undefeated.
“And that counts for nothing now except for our quarterfinal bid, and maybe to face an opponent who did not do as well in other group. But all the teams coming from that group are also very strong.”
The USA will play in the last match on Tuesday, at 11 p.m. Eastern and midnight in Rio, against Japan, the fourth-place team from Pool A.
Monday the men take over again for their final day of the round-robin.
Men’s final day of pool play
The task for the USA, which opened with losses to Canada and Italy but has stormed back with victories over Brazil and France is simple: Beat Mexico, a team that is 0-4 in matches and 1-12 in sets. Do that and the Americans are in the quarterfinals.
Lose and, well, things would be bleak for moving on.
This is Pool A as it stands going into Monday. Only Mexico is out, Italy will finish first, and one of the four 2-2 teams won’t make it:
Italy is 4-0, but France, Canada, Brazil and the USA are all 2-2. The USA is last in both sets and points ratio.
In Pool B, it’s a jumbled mess that’s wide open:
Argentina, Poland and Russia are all 3-1, Iran is 2-2 and Egypt is 1-3, with Cuba out of it at 0-4.
Here is Monday’s men’s schedule:
— Argentina vs. Egypt, 8:30 a.m. Eastern
— USA vs. Mexico, 10:35
— Russia vs. Iran, 2 p.m.
— Poland vs. Cuba, 4:05 p.m.
— Italy vs. Canada, 7:30 p.m.
— Brazil vs. France, 11:35 p.m.
Women’s Pool B
The USA won it at 5-0, followed by Netherlands at 4-1, Serbia at 3-2 and China at 2-3. Italy and Puerto Rico are going home.
USA 3, China 1
“Coming into this Olympic Games, our group looked like it would present many, many challenges and that is exactly what it has done,” Kiraly said. “From our start with Puerto Rico all the way to China today, I think every team in this group is better because we all challenged each other so much.
“So now four of our teams are excited to move on to see what happens in two days in the quarterfinals.”
Kelsey Robinson had 13 points, 11 on kills, as she entered the front row for Kim Hill in the second set and really sparked the USA.
“We have played China what feels like a thousand times, so you know the opponent, what they are good at, what they are not,” Robinson said. “Our team played really well, especially when they pushed back. Just taking it one point at a time. That is all we had to do.”
Jordan Larson led the USA with 18 points, 15 kills on 34 swings, a block and two aces.
Foluke Akinradewo added 15 points, including 13 for 23 on attacks, and two blocks. And Kelly Murphy also had 13 points, including 11-for-22 on attacks, with a block and an ace.
Libero Kayla Banwarth had nine digs and was errorless in 21 serve receptions.
“Congratulations to USA for finishing first in Pool B,” China coach Lang Ping said. “They are a very strong team. We did well and learned a lot of things from this match. Our young players were resilient and battled hard but we still have some weaknesses and we failed in our reception with many miscues in the fourth set. We can learn good lessons from this match.”
Netherlands 3, Serbia 2
Judith Pietersen led the Netherlands with 20 points in a 25-22, 25-20, 22-25, 18-25, 15-8 in a match that left the Dutch 4-1 and the Serbs 3-2.
Since they played the first match of the day, both teams had to wait for the USA vs. China match to know where they would end up in Pool B.
Lonneke Sloetjes added 18 points for the Netherlands Robin De Kruijf had five stuff blocks. “I am happy with the result because we really wanted to win this game,” Netherlands Laura Dijkema said. “We controlled Serbia in the first two sets. We lost some energy and some focus in the next sets, but in the end we recovered well.”
In pool play, the Netherlands beat China 3-2, lost to the USA 3-2, swept Italy and swept Puerto Rico.
Jovana Brakocevic scored 16 points to lead Serbia, who swept Italy, swept Puerto Rico, lost to the USA 3-1, and swept China.
Italy 3, Puerto Rico 0
Something had to give since both teams entered 0-4 and assured of being eliminated.
Italy broke through 25-14, 25-13, 25-22 to finish their participation on a high note.
“We finally got a victory and leave the tournament with that good taste,” Italy coach Marco Bonita said. “It was not special as it was not important for the result of the tournament, but it was important for us as a team. We showed that we wanted to win. It is sport, it is what it is.”
This was Puerto Rico’s first Olympic appearance.
“We are disappointed about not winning a set but we did give it a good try,” Puerto Rico’s Karina Ocasio said. “It has been a good experience, the journey to the Olympics, and to be surrounded by so many elite athletes. Personally it is my last match with the national team and it was a good way to close my career.”
With Brazil beating Russia, the home team won the pool at 5-0, Russia was second at 4-0, Korea third at 3-2, and Japan finished 2-3 but advanced. Argentina fell out of it at 1-4 after losing to Japan.
Korea 3, Cameroon 1
Korea improved to 3-2 with the 25-16, 25-22, 25-20 victory, but had to wait to learn its quarterfinal seeding.
“We came here for a medal, so it is very important for us to play well in the quarterfinals,” Kim Yeon-Koung said.
Park Jeongah topped all scorers with 14 points, including 12 kills and two aces.
Cameroon finished the tournament 0-5, 2-15 in sets.
Japan 3, Argentina 0
The bronze medallists in 2012 clinched the last available quarterfinal spot with the 25-23, 25-16, 26-24 victory.
“In our pool we played against big teams like Russia and Brazil that also have very tall players and high blocking,” Japan’s Saori Kimura said in anticipation of playing the USA. “We have to find our ways to neutralize that with variety of our attacks and use our quickness and defense.”
Brazil 3, Russia 0
The 25-23, 25-21, 25-21 was made closer at the end because Brazil substituted liberally in the third set with a big lead before having to scramble to end it.