The USA women’s national volleyball team took the first step toward earning a spot in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on Friday night, sweeping Kazakhstan 25-17, 25-10, 25-10 in both teams’ opening match of the qualification tournament in Bossier City, Louisiana.

The dominant performance saw setter Lauren Carlini run a fairly balanced offense, and coach Karch Kiraly got an opportunity to make some lineup changes in the third set. The USA women hit .493 with 56 kills and out-blocked their opponents nine to three.

“I like what we did. The focus was really on our side of the net,” Kiraly said in a post-match interview with USA Volleyball. “There was some unknowns. We didn’t know much about this Kazakhstan team, and we learned and got better as we went. They battled early and eventually we wore them down with some very good serving, but tonight we were really taking pride in being good on our side of the net.”

Outside hitter Kelsey Robinson led the USA with 13 points (11 kills and two blocks) against Kazakhstan, which is ranked No. 23 in the world. Michelle Bartsch Hackley earned the second starting outside hitter spot and had eight points.

“We take great pride as USA to be a really great ball-control team, to be great in passing and giving our setters time when we’re digging the ball,” Robinson said to USA Volleyball. “We train that every single day, every single week, and it really shows when we come out here on the court.”

In the middle, Tori Dixon had 10 points (six kills, two blocks, and two aces), while Haleigh Washington scored four before being replaced by Dana Rettke (two points) before the third set.

“We tried to play as clean as possible focusing on our side of the net,” Dixon told the Shreveport Times. “Kazakhstan has a lot of new, young players, so we didn’t know what they would throw at us. I’m happy that we took care of business.”

Opposite Annie Drews, the recently crowned MVP of the 2019 Volleyball Nations League, started and contributed nine points, but got a chance to rest in the third set while current University of Cincinnati star Jordan Thompson subbed in and quickly scored six points.

“We pride ourselves on our offense when the other team serves the ball,” Kiraly said, “on controlling their serve and setting to different places, causing a lot of chaos and not giving the other team a lot of time to respond, and so that creates a lot of terminal opportunities for our hitters.”

Outside-hitter-turned-libero Megan Courtney donned the opposite color jersey and played the position all three sets, leading the team with 10 digs. Setter Jordyn Poulter and defensive specialist/libero Mary Lake both subbed in briefly in the third set.

Friday’s first match between the other two teams in Pool C of the Olympic qualification tournament saw No. 16 Bulgaria defeat No. 11 Argentina 24-26, 25-9, 25-18, 25-20.

Bulgaria’s win means Saturday’s match between the Eastern European team and the USA, scheduled for 5 p.m. Centra, will be even more critical for the host team to win.

“They are going to be a handful,” Kiraly said of Bulgaria. “We played them earlier in the summer, but they were without probably their best player, outside hitter No. 16 [Elitsa] Vasileva, and so we’ll be working hard this evening and tomorrow morning on a game plan for them and looking forward to a stiff challenge.”

If the USA does win Saturday night, then it will be the only team without a loss in Pool C, a great position to be in ahead of Sunday’s match with Argentina.

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