All American volleyball eyes now turn to the USA men, the last of the country’s six teams in the Rio Olympics with a shot at gold.
Gone are all four beach teams, with only Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross coming away with a bronze.
Now, after losing to Serbia in five on Thursday, 20-25, 25-17, 25-21, 16-25, 15-13, the USA women will play for bronze on Saturday. Serbia will play China, which was hitting on all cylinders when it beat The Netherlands 27-25, 23-25, 29-27, 25-3 in about as close and exciting a match as you could imagine.
That leaves the USA men, who face Italy in one of Friday’s semifinal, with Russia playing Brazil in the other. The USA-Italy match begins at noon Eastern, while Russia-Brazil won’t be played until 11:15 p.m.
The good news is the USA men, who won gold in 2008 but lost in the quarterfinals in London in 2012, are in the hunt. The bad news is they were beaten badly the last two times they played the Italians, a sweep in pool play in July in the World League and 28-26, 20-25, 25-23, 25-23 in Olympic pool play in Rio on August 9.
The USA women were dealt a tough blow in the second set when red-hot middle Foluke Akinradewo went down with a knee injury. She had five kills and three blocks in less than two sets. Her absence obviously affected the team in the second and third sets, but the Americans won the fourth set handily and had every opportunity to come away with the victory in the fifth.
“First of all I want to congratulate Serbia on winning the match and the right to play for a gold medal here in Rio de Janeiro,” said USA coach Karch Kiraly, an assistant in 2012 when the Americans lost in four to Brazil in the gold-medal match. “They played a great match.
“I also want to congratulate our team. We are incredibly proud of the way we battled through some real adversity today, falling down 2-1 and all that was going on and putting ourselves into a position where we could make that win possible.
“Then Serbia made some great plays down the stretch. They earned a victory that they certainly should be very proud of.”
His team was up 12-10 when things unraveled.
Right side Karsta Lowe, in for Heather Murphy, was magnificent in the fifth set, with six kills as the first nine USA points. But after a Serbian kill, Lowe’s back-row attack went into the net.
An ace by Milena Rasic put the Serbs up 13-12 and USA coach Karch Kiraly called time. It worked, because Rasic served into the net.
But American middle Rachael Adams, who had a team-high 14 points with eight kills on 16 attacks and six blocks, returned the favor, also serving into the net. The next ball came back to the Serbian side and 19-year-old Tijana Boskovic crushed a back set so hard that it bounced off Kelsey Robinson, playing the ball in left back, all the way across the net to the far side and out of bounds to end it.
“It is an amazing feeling,” Boskovic said. “We have defeated USA, one of the best teams in the world. We will play our hearts out in the next match for the gold medal. I am very proud of my team.”
Christa Dietzen came in filled in admirably for Akinradewo but had two kills and three blocks.
“It took everybody,” Dietzen said on the USA scrapping back into the match. “We’re two of the best teams in the world and we are going to expose all the weaknesses.
“I love the way that girls can come off the bench and be called to do any number of things. It was tough when Foluke went down. I think we were a little distracted there for a second just because we care so much for her.
“Obviously we wanted to turn this around for her and for everybody that’s a part of this program. We have a chance in the next 48 hours to do so.”
Lowe had 13 points, all kills, on 21 swings. Jordan Larson had 12 points with nine kills on 26 attacks, two blocks and an ace
“We left everything out there,” Larson said. “Foluke came down with something with her knee and I thought we did a good job rallying around each other.
“Serbia is a great team. We stuck with them. We are excited for another chance to medal, and that is what we came here to do. Again, congratulations to Serbia.”
The USA, which has never won Olympic gold, defeated Serbia 25-17, 21-25, 25-18, 25-19 earlier in Olympic pool play on August 10. Serbia came away with a hard-fought five-set win at the 2015 FIVB World Cup in its last victory over the Americans.
“Every one of our players made a significant contribution to this challenge that we fought through,” Kiraly said. “They should hold their heads high and be proud.
“Karsta came in and did a really nice job. Christa came in and did really well. Right now this loss is deeply disappointing. It cuts deep, it is very painful. But that is OK. When you care that much, it is going to. We are going to process that some. We get some time to grieve. We signed up to do some difficult things. We are going to come back hard in 48 hours and fight for a bronze medal.”
Netherlands 3, China 1
The victory give China coach Lang Ping a shot at becoming the first person to both win an Olympics as a player and a coach. A big portion of the credit goes to Ting Zhu, who had a tournament-high 33 points on 31 kills in 61 swings and two blocks. Ruoqi Hui added 12 points.
Lonneke Sloetjes led the Dutch with 17 points, including 15 kills, a block and an ace.