Indiana Wesleyan wins NAIA national volleyball championship
December 6, 2023
September 24, 2023
Annie Drews played like a woman possessed.
And now her USA team — which gold in the Tokyo 2021 Olympics — possesses a spot in the Paris 2024 Olympics.
The Americans lost the first set Sunday, then Drews entered the match, the they stormed to a 24-26, 25-21, 25-9, 25-16 victory in Lodz, Poland, in the Road to Paris Volleyball Qualifier.
Drews had 27 kills as the high-flying left-handed opposite demolished Germany almost single-handedly in the last three sets. She had 11 kills in the second set alone and had only two errors — both coming late — in her 46 attacks. She also had 10 digs.
The victory left the USA 6-1 in the seven-match tournament and guaranteed one of the two spots in this portion of the tournament.
“Annie coming off the bench was exactly what we needed,” said USA veteran Jordan Larson. “We train for this and she showed up and did her job! So proud of her.”
Drews also was a spectacular sub in the Tokyo Olympics, coming in when Jordan Thompson was injured.
“My focus coming into tonight was to just be where my feet were and fill in gaps as needed,” Drews said. “We sometimes talk about how we want to feel after a match is over. We can we truly say we have nothing left in the tank or finished with no regrets. So that was in the back of my mind tonight, playing in a way where I wouldn’t regret anything!”
Larson had 11 kills, two blocks and 16 digs. The other outside, Kelsey Cook, had 12 kills, an ace and 11 digs.
The Americans were coming off their only loss, 27-25, 16-25, 25-23, 25-16 Saturday to Poland when a victory would have likely clinched an Olympic berth then.
“Super proud of our team for coming back after a tough loss yesterday,” Larson said. “Credit for Germany coming out strong in the first set, but proud of how we battled and finished strong.”
“I’m incredibly proud and impressed with this group,” USA coach Karch Kiraly said. “We had a really disappointong match against Poland, especially in the third set, where I think we had a 15-10 lead and then something like a 22-19 lead. But we made 11 unforced errors. I think we served out five times, hit out a few, had a couple of setting errors, a couple of receptions aces, a block into the net or two, and it’s hard to beat a really good team on their home court when we make that many mistakes. And they made us pay for it.
“They also made us dig a little deeper today. And Germany came out strong and at us hard. That was really good for us. We lost the first and I guess that’s part of the tempering process. We talk about tempering steel.
“This was certainly a tougher Olympic qualifiying tournament than the one we played four years ago in Shreveport (Louisiana), which was just Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. Three matches in less than 48 hours. This was seven matches in nine days.
“Our whole plan all season was to prepare anyone in a uniform to be able to play every minute of every one of those matches. Nobody actually needed to do that, but everybody was prepared to do that. So I loved the response that this team formulated after losing to Poland and after losing the first game against Germany.”
Chiaka Ogbogu had five kills, five blocks and an ace and Thompson had five kills. Dana Rettke had seven kills, a block and an ace and Ali Frantti had a kill in her only attempt, a late back-row attack it the fourth set.
Setter Lauren Carlini had a kill and 12 digs and libero Justine Wong-Orantes has 23 digs.
“This qualification feels so much more gratifying than the previous one, in my opinion,” Carlini said. “Playing seven games in nine days is grueling in so many ways and it tested us in ways that previous tournaments had not.
“It feels good to end a season on the highest of notes. It’s been a while since our team has been able to celebrate at the end of a tourney/season and so this feels great.”
Carlini played most of all the matches. The other setter, Micha Hancock, who was with the team Sunday, was concussed and had to be replaced at the last minute by Ashley Evans. Evans played some, but the majority of floor time went to Carlini.
“We could not have done it without every single person in this group and I’m thankful for the people I’m surrounded by,” Carlini said. “Our depth is such a weapon and I loved our response after losing to Poland and bringing it to Germany the next day. Proud of this team, proud of our tenacity and we’re going to Paris!”
“A lot of us believe we’re just scratching the surface in terms of what this team can do and accomplish,” Kiraly said, “and that leaves us really excited when we get to spend more time as a group preparing for something like VNL next year and the Paris Olympics themselves.”
Germany’s Lina Alsmeier had 15 kills and Kimberly Drewniok had nine.
Later in Pool C, Poland was to play Italy with the winner getting the second spot.
In Pool A, played in Beijing, the Dominican Republic and Serbia got the two Olympic spots.
In Pool B, played in Tokyo, Türkiye and Brazil — which beat Japan for the spot — got the berths.
There are now six teams plus host France qualified for the 12-team Olympic field. The other five will be chosen in June based on rankings and which federations have not yet qualified.
“I am so proud of the women for qualifying for the Paris games and heading to defend their title,” USA Volleyball CEO Jamie Davis texted from Poland. “The entire program pulled together, including players on and off the court, as well as the entire staff to win in a very tough tournament against some of the best teams in the world.
“Grit, determination and heart! Go USA!”