BOSSIER CITY, Louisiana — Annie Drews picked up right where she left off for the USA national team with all of her Tokyo Olympics teammates looking on.
The hard-hitting left-hander got the start Friday night at opposite and had a match-high 13 kills, two blocks and five digs as the USA swept Canada 25-14, 25-22, 25-19 to improve to 2-0 in the Volleyball Nations League.
Now the USA and Brazil can look ahead to Saturday night.
The last time they met, the USA beat Brazil for the gold medal in Tokyo. There’s history, too, because Brazil beat the USA in the gold-medal matches in 2008 and 2012.
In this case, there are four Brazilian players from last summer’s team on this VNL roster, while the Americans have two, Drews and Jordan Thompson, the player who got hurt in Tokyo and for whom Drews filled in.
“They are a legendary program in both women’s and men’s volleyball in both indoors and beach,” USA coach Karch Kiraly said. “So any time we get to compete with them is really special. José Roberto (Guimaraes) does a great job with them. He coached them to gold in London, gold in Beijing before that, silver last year. So three Olympic finals with two golds.
“It’s always a great clash and battle when those teams compete. There’s a lot of history of volleyball.”
Kiraly, of course, was a young star on the USA team that broke through and won indoors men’s gold in the 1984 Olympics, beating Brazil in the final.
“It’s also special for me because the Brazilian men were not very good in the ’70s and the USA men were not very good in the ’70s,” Kiraly said. “And both programs at about the same time had a resurrection where we then played in the gold-medal match in 1984 and that was the start of greatness for the Brazilian men and the USA men. So in lots of ways it’s a really special rivalry.”
Earlier in the day Brazil beat the Dominican Republic 25-9, 16-25, 25-18, 25-17 to improve to 3-0.
“They have a very good team, a very consistent team with blocking and defense,” Guimaraes said. “They changed some players but I think we must serve hard because they play really fast. They commit few mistakes.”
That was the case against the Canadians. Madi Kingdon Rishel, the 29-year-old Arizona product making her first USA start in two years, had 11 kills, eight digs and a block.
“It felt really great to put the jersey back on and represent our country,” said Rishel, who is from Phoenix. “Especially here at home with fans and our families watching.
Former Washington standout Kara Bajema, in the mix for the first time, had nine kills, two blocks, five digs and an ace that was part of a big serving run during the second set; and Brionne Butler had nine kills, three blocks and two digs in her first start.
“That was so exciting,” said Butler, the 2021 VolleyballMag.com second-team All-American who not only played at Texas, but is from near Houston, just less than a five-hour drive. She had plenty of family on hand. “I was so excited they could make the trip.”
Lauren Carlini had nine assists, 14 digs, an ace, and two kills. Her team hit .380. Carlini also set Tuesday when the Americans swept the Dominican Republic. The only other player in both matches was Tori Dixon, who had three kills and a dig. Penn State libero Kendall White, making her first USA start, had 17 digs.
“We’ve played two pretty significant groups here so far and they both made strides and improvements as they went along,” Kiraly said. “I really like how Canada came back strong at us in that second set. We were down 11-6 and Kara had a really nice serving run to get us back in and that’s a hallmark of us, what we take great pride in in terms of the DNA of this team, tough serving and good passing. I love that we got challenged in that set and we know there are tons more challenges ahead to come starting with Brazil.”
Canada got 10 kills from Alexa Gray, who played at BYU, and eight from Kiera Van Ryk. Van Ryk, Carlini, Rishel and Dixon all played together this past year in Istanbul for Turkish Airlines.
“So we had four of our five foreigners on the court tonight,” Rishel said.
Bajema and Chiaka Ogbugu will also be going to Turkey next season, playing for VakifBank, the team for which Michelle Bartsch-Hackley has been a star.
The USA had a mantra last year that it was 23 strong, meaning that not just the 12 players who made the cut for Tokyo were the focus, and to a woman they’ve talked about how all were made to feel a part of the gold-medal journey the entire way.
Accordingly, they all met here Thursday and had a team dinner. Everyone made it but Rachel Adams and Hannah Tapp. Tapp missed because her twin sister, Ali, is getting married this weekend.
Of the Olympians, in addition to Drews, Thompson, Bartsch-Hackley and Ogbogu, the others in attendance were Micha Hancock, Jordyn Poulter, Justine Wong-Orantes, Jordan Larson, Kim Hill, Foluke Akinradewo, Haleigh Washington and Kelsey Robinson. The alternates included from the team here were Dixon, Carlini and Sarah Wilhite Parsons, and also here were Kathryn Plummer and Megan Courtney-Lush.
In the other match here Friday, Germany swept Korea. In Turkey, Serbia swept Bulgaria, Italy swept the Netherlands, and China beat Turkey in four.