Just weeks out of college, Karsta Lowe continues to play like a seasoned pro. The recent UCLA grad had 14 kills and three blocks as the U.S. Women’s National Team dominated Japan 3-0 (25-12, 25-15, 25-18) in the first of five round-robin matches at the 2015 FIVB World Grand Prix Finals in Omaha.

Throughout the first three weeks of the tournament, Lowe has played fearlessly from the right side. With a powerful left arm, Lowe rarely resorts to roll shots or tips, attacking both cross-court and line for kills. She’s been equally effective from the back row, where her cross-body swing often baffles blockers.

In Omaha, Japan could never get on track, as USA’s strong serves limited their attack from the start. Outside hitter Kim Hill was again effective with her deep float serve, scoring a pair of aces and anchoring several long runs. Setters Molly Kreklow and Courtney Thompson also led effective scoring streaks from the service line.

The American offense was well-distributed across front line, with Kelsey Robinson landing eight kills on 18 attacks, and both Hill and Foluke Akinradewo each contributing six kills. Akinradewo added four blocks to her final stats line.

“I thought our team did a really nice job in staying engaged in things that were important, said U.S. head coach Karch Kiraly. We know Japan has certain tendencies. They hit a lot of off-speed shots. They throw and junk it around. I thought our team was quite good in being prepared for that.”

This is the first time in the 23-year history of the FIVB World Grand Prix that the final round has been hosted by the United States. Omaha’s CenturyLink Center drew a disappointing 5,105 fans Wednesday, less than a third of capacity. The audience was even smaller earlier in the day when Brazil faced China, a match between traditional powerhouses, won 3-1 by Brazil (23-25, 25-20, 25-16, 25-14.) Both teams entered the match 9-0 in pool play, but neither brought a full lineup of its veteran players to Nebraska.

In Wednesday’s third match, Russia defeated Italy 3-0 (26-24, 28-26, 25-19) after the Italians suffered late collapses in the first two sets. Team USA faces Italy Thursday evening (8 p.m. CT), right after China meets Japan and Brazil squares off with Russia.

At the very same hour U.S. plays Italy in Omaha Thursday, a second American team will face the Dominican Republic in Toronto in the Pan Am Games semifinals. That team defeated Cuba Wednesday 3-1 (25-18, 25-19, 22-25, 25-18). Krista Vansant led the US attack with 13 kills. Like Lowe, the former Washington All-American is also fresh out of college.


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