Talk about a good year. Christa Dietzen (nee Harmatto), a 2012 Olympic silver medalist and two-time NCAA Champion at Penn State, began 2014 recovering from the knee surgery she had in December. She got back on the court in time to help the U.S. take the silver medal at Montreux Volley Masters in June, got married in July, and Sunday, in front of almost 13,000 fans, collected seven blocks in the FIVB Women’s World Championships final win over China in Milan, Italy. It was her 28th birthday.
But it was national team youngster Kim Hill, a former Pepperdine outside hitter, from Portland, Oregon, who put away the final kill to earn the U.S. its first major international championship gold. Ever. Hill joined the national team following an open tryout in 2013 and, less than two years later, earned both the Best Spiker and Most Valuable Player awards at the premier international championship. She led her team with 20 points in the championship match, collecting 19 kills in 31 attempts with only a single error.
The U.S., ranked No. 2 in the world at the start of the World Championships, defeated China in four sets after falling to Italy in the first match of the third round, beating Russia in four, and sweeping Brazil. The Americans, led by captain Dietzen and head coach Karch Kiraly, went up 2-0 before China came back and won the third set decisively 25-16. In the fourth, China led 23-20, looking as if they were going to push the match to a fifth, but the U.S. persevered, taking three straight points to tie it at 23s, and ultimately claiming the title 26-24.
With the win, Kiraly became only the fourth person to ever win gold at the World Championships as a player and a coach, but in the post-match press conference, he emphasized that this victory wasnt about him.
It is about this team and this program, he said. They are a wonderful group of people that I get to work with every day. We got contributions from every single player. It was not just our starting six.
Paul Sunderland, a former national team player and Olympian himself, interviewed his former teammate Kiraly after the match, and in a rare moment of emotion, both men fought back tears.
There’s just been this obstacle, this wall, said Kiraly, but I could feel it crack between us and that goal, and that gold, that color. Like the Berlin Wall, it was cracking and fracturing and we just had to keep hurling ourselves as a team at that wall until we burst it down.
Thanks to the victory, the U.S. is now ranked No. 1 in the world, not a bad place to be two years away from the Rio Olympics.