The intensity level for USA Volleyball rose considerably Saturday at the Tokyo Olympics as the beach playoffs were set, the USA women not only got swept but perhaps lost a star player, and the USA men prepared for a must-win match Sunday.
Start with Sunday morning in Tokyo, which will be Saturday night in America, as Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil play the first knockout beach volleyball match at Shiokaze Park.
And it’s a tough one: The ninth-seeded Americans face 10th-seeded Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson at 9 a.m. Sunday in Tokyo, 8 p.m. Eastern in America. It appears it will be shown on NBC.
Also Sunday, 16th-seeded USA men Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena play third-seeded Qataris Cherif Samba and Ahmed Tijan. That match starts at midnight Eastern.
Click here for Monday beach schedule.
And in men’s volleyball, the USA men play Argentina in the last match Sunday night, which starts at 8:45 a.m. Eastern in America. Both teams are 2-2 and so is France, which plays Pool B leader Brazil (3-1). In the other Pool B match, ROC (3-1) plays Tunisia (0-4).
Only the top four teams advance to the quarterfinals.
Click here for Monday’s men’s volleyball schedule.
OLYMPIC BEACH VOLLEYBALL
On Saturday, Claes and Sponcil lost the first set and then battled back for a 17-21, 21-19, 15-11 victory over fourth-seeded Brazilians Rebecca Cavalcanti and Ana Patricia Silva. They were the only Americans in action as the rest of pool play wrapped and the two Lucky Loser matches on both sides were competed.
Also into the round of 16 are Latvians Tina Graudina, the USC star, and Anastasija Kravcenoka. And in the toughest of luck, both Swiss women’s teams play each other.
Here are Sunday’s round-of-16 matches in order of play:
Claes-Sponcil (USA) vs. Bansley-Wilkerson (Canada)
Fan Wang vs. Xinyi XIa (China) vs. Cavalcanti-Silva (Brazil)
Dalhausser-Lucena (USA) vs. Samba-Ahmed (Qatar)
Nadezda Makroguzova-Svetlana Kholomina (ROC) vs. Tina Graudina-Anastasija Kravcenoka (Latvia)
Laura Ludwig-Margareta Kozuch (Germany) vs. Agatha Bednarczuk-Duda Lisboa (Brazil)
Anouk Vérgé-Depre-Joana Heidrich (Switzerland) vs. Tanja Huberli-Nina Betschart (Switzerland)
Mariafe Artacho del Solar-Taliqua Clancy (Australia) vs. Chen Xue-Xinxin Wang (China)
Anders Mol-Christian Sorum (Norway) vs. Alexander Brouwer-Robert Meeuwsen (Netherlands).
Clearly both American pairs have their hands full, but it could be an epic Sunday in Tokyo.
The other USA teams play Monday.
April Ross and Alix Klineman open play against Cubans Lidianny Echevarria and Leila Ortega and that match is scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday in Tokyo, 8 p.m. Eastern.
And in the last match Monday (early morning in America), Jake Gibb and Tri Bourne face Germans Julius Thole and Clemens Wicker.
Claes and Sponcil, who went 3-0 in the pool, were clearly frustrated by Ana Patricia and Rebecca, whose shots and gamesmanship were on full display in the first set. Eventually it appeared the Brazilians wore down and Sponcil was extremely effective offensively late in the match.
“It was just really tiring,” Sponcil admitted. “They’re such a good team. So mentally I’m pretty drained and physically. We just did a good job making it point by point. That’s what you have to do, you have to be present.
“I think we did a good job not focusing on the past plays that didn’t go our way, or what’s happening in the future. We really just stuck in the moment and got some really good defensive plays in the end and I think we came out really strong in the third (set), which is what we needed to do against a team like that.”
Their coach, Jordan Cheng, sounded concerned.
“To be honest, we squeezed out a win. But personally I’m not very happy with their mindset and how they went about things,” Cheng said. “I think they could have been better teammates. With this team, we say that it’s not really about the volleyball. When we go and watch this match, we’re not going to focus on the volleyball. There’s a lot of teammate stuff that we have to dial in.
“We’ve got to be good teammates. I want them to stick with the stuff we’ve been working on, believe the best in each other, and fight for each other. Sometimes I think we can get frustrated and go our separate ways a little bit.”
Click here for Sunday’s complete beach results.
OLYMPIC INDOOR VOLLEYBALL
The Russians (ROC) took it to the USA 25-20, 25-12, 25-19, leaving ROC, the USA, and Italy in a three-way tie atop Pool B. Turkey is alone in fourth at 2-1, China is 1-4, and Argentina is 0-4.
So something’s gotta give, because on Monday, the USA finishes pool play with Italy, ROC plays Turkey, and China plays Argentina.
“We will do our best to regroup and be ready for Italy,” said USA veteran outside Jordan Larson.
The Americans haven’t lost too often this summer. They went 14-0 in the Volleyball Nations League before losing to China, but won their semifinal and final matches and the title. Then at the Olympics they beat Argentina, China, and Turkey before getting smashed by ROC.
And what’s worse, star opposite Jordan Thompson, the team kills leader, went down with an ankle injury in the second set. At the time, Thompson had five kills.
“It’s not a major ankle sprain. It’s somewhere between mild and medium. We’ll learn more about the extent,” USA coach Karch Kiraly said.
“I’ve heard she’ll be back in action within a few days, which means maybe she’s unlikely for Italy but we’re hopeful beyond that.”
Middle Haleigh Washington led the USA with six kills, while Larson was one of four players with five kills each.
“Certainly it was emotional,” Larson said of losing Thompson. “Jordan has had a really good tournament so far. It’s definitely hard when anyone goes down. It saps our energy.”
Larson also had four digs and two blocks. Annie Drews had five kills and seven digs, and Kelsey Robinson had five kills, the team’s only ace, and a dig. Michelle Bartsch-Hackley had four kills and four digs, and Justine Wong-Orantes had nine digs and three assist. Jordyn Poulter had 24 assists, a block, and three digs, and Micha Hancock saw her first action at setter and had four assists and a kill.
Nataliya Goncharova led ROC with 24 kills while hitting .621, and had two blocks, and four digs.
“Russia played a really sharp, clean game of volleyball. One of our hallmarks is we control the serve and run our offence,” Kiraly said. “But our sideout game got broken down by Russia’s serving, blocking and defence. We have to take care of the ball when Russia is at the service line.
“We got it closer in the third but made mistakes late and they put us away.”
Click here for Monday’s women’s indoor results.
ROC looked really good against USA. Loved watching the second set because Russia was playing volleyball at its highest level.