Seasoned veterans, first-timers and a ton of athleticism dot the roster as the USA women take the first step in the summer of 2023 toward the 2024 Paris Olympics.
The USA women play Serbia, Italy, Korea and host Türkiye as the Volleyball Nations League gets underway this week in Antalya, Turkey, and Nagoya, Japan (Click here for a breakdown of all the other teams in the tournament).
Teams provide an overall roster of 30 players, but can only bring 14 to each VNL leg. In the case of the USA, coach Karch Kiraly took a mix of old and new to Antalya. He has the luxury of knowing that no matter what happens, the USA is guaranteed a spot in the quarterfinals. That’s because the quarterfinals, semifinals and championship will be played in Arlington, Texas, July 12-16 and the host team is given a spot in the final eight.
Many of the veterans are coming off long pro seasons and simply need the rest. That would include the four who played in the Italian League finals two weeks ago, Kelsey Robinson Cook and Kathryn Plummer of Conegliano, which beat Milano and Jordan Larson and Jordan Thompson.
Accordingly, we’ll take a look at the 14 in Türkiye, which includes three members of the USA team that won gold in the Tokyo Olympics and seven players making their VNL debuts.
We’ve also got the recap of the USA women winning the NORCECA Pan American Cup on Sunday as the U21 team swept the host team in the final.
The USA 14 in Türkiye
Setters: Micha Hancock and Ashley Evans.
Hancock, who may have the most vicious serve in the sport, is the seasoned pro veteran from Penn State. When starter Jordyn Poulter sprained her ankle in Tokyo, Hancock came in and the team never missed a beat. She’s played most of her pro career in Italy, including this past season with Vallefoglia.
Evans, the product of Purdue, is making her VNL debut. Evans, a pro since 2018, played this past season for Aachen in Germany
Outside hitters: Brooke Nuneviller, Avery Skinner, Khalia Lanier and Roni Jones-Perry. All of the former NCAA stars are playing in the VNL for the first time.
Nuneviller, the former Oregon star, just finished her first pro season for Nilufer Belediyespor in Türkiye. We featured her last summer and much of the story was about how she would have to be a libero if she wanted to play for the national team. But in this case the outstanding all-around athlete, a shade shorter than 5-foot-11, continues to defy the odds and is on the outside.
Skinner won the NCAA title with Kentucky, finished at Baylor, and this past season played for Beziers in France.
Lanier was all-everything for USC who played her first pro season in Puerto Rico before moving to Bergamo in Italy this past season.
Jones-Perry led BYU to the 2018 NCAA national semifinals and started her pro career in Italy before playing three seasons in Poland. This past season she was the best server in the Brazilian league for Sesc-RJ/Flamengo.
Middle blockers: Brionne Butler, Dana Rettke, Asjia O’Neal and Madeleine Gates.
Butler and Rettke played VNL last year. O’Neal and Gates are on the team for the first time.
Butler, the former Texas great, played a season in Indonesia before moving this past season to Chieri in Italy.
Rettke, who led Wisconsin to the 2021 NCAA title, played with Larson and Thompson for Milano. She played sparingly in the Italian finals.
O’Neal is coming off a great season for Texas, which won the NCAA title in December. She is the only college player on this team and will play for the Longhorns again next season.
Gates won the NCAA title as a graduate student in her only season at Stanford. She played for Dresdner in Germany for two seasons before moving to RC Cannes in France this past season.
Opposites: Annie Drews and Danielle Cuttino. Both played at Purdue.
Drews had a fantastic second half of the Tokyo Olympics when Jordan Thompson got hurt. The left-hander has had a tremendous career for the USA since making her pro debut in 2016. She’s had stops in Puerto Rico, Italy, Poland and Japan and last season played in Italy for Vallefoglia with Hancock.
Cuttino, who who scored points in two VNL matches last summer, continually put up some big-time numbers this past season for Queenseis in Japan. She previously played pro in Italy for Casalmaggiore and in Brazil for Minas.
Libero: Justine Wong-Orantes and Morgan Hentz. Wong Orantes was the Olympic libero in Tokyo; Hentz played VNL last summer.
Wong-Orantes won an NCAA title for Nebraska and had played in Germany for Schwerin and Wiesbaden before moving this past season to Beziers, where she played with Skinner.
Hentz wasn’t sure she was going to play after college when she won the 2019 NCAA title at Stanford with Plummer and Gates (and Jennifer Gray, who’s on the 30-player roster). She played a season with Dresdner in 2020-21, but playing with Athletes Unlimited later that year jump-started her pro career (We featured her during last summer’s VNL).
USA 30-player roster
No. Name (Pos., Ht., Hometown, College)
1. Micha Hancock (S, 5-11, Edmond, Okla., Penn St.)
3. Kendall White (L, 5-5, Zionsville, Ind., Penn St.)
4. Justine Wong-Orantes (L, 5-6, Cypress, Calif., Nebraska)
5. Ali Frantti (OH, 6-1, Spring Grove, Ill., Penn St.)
6. Morgan Hentz (L, 5-9, Lakeside Park, Ky., Stanford)
7. Lauren Carlini (S, 6-2, Aurora, Ill., Wisconsin)
8. Brionne Butler (MB, 6-4, Kendleton, Texas, Texas)
10. Jordan Larson (OH, 6-2, Hooper, Neb., Nebraska)
11. Annie Drews (Opp, 6-4, Elkhart, Ind., Purdue)
12. Jordan Thompson (Opp, 6-4, Edina, Minn., Cincinnati)
14. Anna Stevenson (MB, 6-2, Laurens S.C., Louisville, Palmetto)
15. Haleigh Washington (MB, 6-3, Colorado Springs, Colo., Penn St. )
16. Dana Rettke (MB, 6-8, Riverside, Ill., Wisconsin,)
18. Kara Bajema (OH, 6-2, Lynden, Wash., Washington)
19. Jenna Gray (S, 6-1, Shawnee, Kan., Stanford)
20. Danielle Cuttino (Opp, 6-4, Indianapolis, Ind., Purdue)
21. Simone Lee (OH, 6-1, Menomonee Falls, Wis., Penn St.)
22. Kathryn Plummer (OH, 6-6, Aliso Viejo, Calif., Stanford)
23. Kelsey Robinson (OH, 6-2, Manhattan Beach, Calif., Nebraska)
24. Chiaka Ogbogu (MB, 6-2, Coppell, Texas, Texas)
25. Brooke Nuneviller (OH, 5-11, Chandler, Ariz., Oregon)
26. Asjia O’Neal (MB, 6-3, Southlake, Texas, Texas)
27. Avery Skinner (OH, 6-1, Katy, Texas, Baylor)
28. Ashley Evans (S, 6-1, Liberty Township, Ohio, Purdue)
29. Khalia Lanier (OH, 6-2, Scottsdale, Ariz., Southern California)
30. Danielle Hart (MB, 6-4, Virginia Beach, Va., Wisconsin)
31. Roni Jones-Perry (OH, 6-0, West Jordan, Utah, BYU)
34. Stephanie Samedy (Opp, 6-2, Clermont, Fla., Minnesota)
35. Tori Dilfer-Stringer (S, 5-11, Los Gatos, Calif., Louisville)
36. Madeleine Gates (MB, 6-3, San Diego, Calif., Stanford)
Head Coach: Karch Kiraly
Assistant Coach: Tama Miyashiro
Second Assistant Coaches: Marv Dunphy, Alfee Reft, Erin Virtue
Performance Analyst: Rianne Verhoek
Physical Therapist/Athletic Trainer: Kara Kessans
Team Doctor: Lori Boyajian-O’Neill, William Briner, James Suchy, Eugene Yim
Consultant Coach: Sue Enquist, Katy Stanfill
Team Manager: Dana Burkholder, Coley Pawlikowski
Sports Dietitian: Shawn Hueglin
Strength & Conditioning Coach: Brandon Siake
At the NORCECA Pan American Cup, the USA women capped a 5-0 tournament with a 25-13, 25-16, 25-21 over Mexico in Nogales, Mexico.
Chloe Chicoine of Purdue was named the tournament MVP and the best outside hitter. Creighton’s Norah Sis, in 2021 the VolleyballMag.com national freshman of the year and and last year a VBM third-team All-American, was the second best outside. Rachel Fairbanks of Pitt was the best setter, Gabrielle Essix of Florida was best middle and and libero Lauren Briseño of Baylor was best receiver.
The team was coached by Pitt’s Dan Fisher. Click here for more from USA Volleyball.