The U.S. women’s national team will compete against Kazakhstan, Argentina, and Bulgaria in this week’s International Olympic Qualification Tournament.
On the line for the winner of the four-team pool is a spot in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and it’s not overly dramatic to say it would be shocking if Team USA didn’t earn that bid.
USA vs. Kazakhstan
Friday, Aug. 2, 6 p.m. Central. Olympic Channel
USA vs. Bulgaria
Saturday, Aug. 3, 5 p.m. Central, Olympic Channel
USA vs. Argentina
Sunday, Aug. 4, 1 p.m. Central, NBC
The U.S. women have an all-time record of 41-1 versus these three teams, the one loss to Bulgaria at the 1998 World Championships.
Bossier City, Louisiana, adjacent to Shreveport, serves as host of the USA’s qualification pool, an unlikely location for the three most important matches of the year.
One might expect Los Angeles, or relatively nearby Dallas, or even Lincoln, Nebraska, to be USA Volleyball’s choice of location, but the Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission submitted its written proposal to USAV and was awarded the chance to host earlier this year.
“It truly is a privilege and an honor to be playing for an Olympic berth inside our own country, so we’re super-pumped to play in Shreveport,” USA coach Karch Kiraly said in an interview with USA Volleyball.
“We are not taking anything for granted, or thinking that any opponent is less of a threat than others. Instead, we’re focusing all of our efforts into winning the first point of the tournament. Then we’ll reset, and focus on the next point. We are treating each of our three opponents with the utmost respect—Kazakhstan, Bulgaria and Argentina.”
Kiraly has made his seriousness about this tournament quite obvious by the group of players he selected to the Olympic qualification tournament roster, 12 of whom helped USA win its second Volleyball Nations League title just last month.
According to USA Volleyball, middle Chiaka Ogbogu, who traveled every week during VNL, was “unable to travel to Shreveport this week,” however the organization did not elaborate as to the reason.
Olympian Kim Hill, who did not travel with at all during VNL in order to take a break after a long professional season, returns to the team for the first time this summer, and takes the place of national team rookie outside hitter Mikaela Foecke.
“It’s really special to be able to qualify here on U.S. soil,” Hill said. “It’s never easy to qualify. There’s always a lot of pressure on this tournament, but we’re excited for it. We think we have a good shot at it, and to do it in front of family and friends, it’s the first step in a big goal. It’s cool to have people alongside us for that first step.”
Of the three other teams in the pool, Argentina sits highest in the world rankings at No. 11. The South American team finished in last place at the 2018 Volleyball Nations League, and was therefore relegated to the Challenger Cup and then placed 19th out of 24 teams at the 2018 World Championships.
No. 16 Bulgaria, on the other hand, won last year’s Challenger Cup to earn a spot in the 2019 VNL, and took a 12th at World Champs. Then VNL, the European squad went 2-13, finishing 16th out of 16 and being sent back to the Challenger Cup for next year.
“We haven’t faced Kazakhstan in several years, so we have extra preparation homework to do,” Kiraly said. “Bulgaria has a couple of pin hitters who can be very tough to stop. We played them on their home court in Week One of Volleyball Nations League during May, where they put up strong resistance, and we’re expecting them to have a roster that is stronger than the one we saw then. And Argentina is traditionally one of the two best teams in South America.”
In total, 24 teams (the top 24 teams in the world, with the exception of 2020 Olympics host Japan) are competing this week in six pools of four, with each pool being hosted in a different city around the world. By the conclusion of competition on Sunday, six teams will have earned their spots in Tokyo. The remaining five berths will be awarded through zonal championships hosted by the five FIVB confederations.