It wasn’t pretty, but the USA improved its VNL record to 6-1 on Tuesday with a 3-1 victory over Korea.
Maybe it was nerves brought on by playing in front of family and friends on U.S. soil, or the new lineup with rookie setter Jordyn Poulter dishing the rock to a group of starting attackers that featured three players who didn’t travel with the team last week.
Whatever the cause, Korea got off to a 7-1 start in the first set and held the lead all the way to a 25-19 opening set victory.
“Obviously, playing with a new group, there were some kinks we had to work out, especially in that first set,” team captain Jordan Larson said after making her 2019 debut for Team USA against Korea. “In set one, I think we were just trying to figure each other out. They were serving tough and we were kind of taking some low swings.”
With USA trailing 5-12 in set one, USA head coach Karch Kiraly called his second and final timeout of the set, saying, “We can write a new story from this point right now.”
It didn't happen right at that moment, but the U.S. women did manage to execute a turnaround.
USA had five aces in the second, including two in a row from Larson, keeping Korea off balance and out of system. In total, Korea made 11 errors in the set, which paved the way for the U.S. women to even the score at one set apiece.
“In the second set when we came back, we started serving better and it made our job on defense a lot easier to control them because they rely on combos and things like that,” Larson explained.
Korea head coach Stefan Lavarini made the interesting choice of benching the team’s star outside hitter Kim Yeon Koung after set one. The 31-year-old scored six points in her limited playing time on three kills and three blocks, but she never reentered the match.
USA head coach Karch Kiraly, on the other hand, stuck with his starting lineup even after the sluggish start in the first set. In addition to Larson and Poulter, that group included middle Tori Dixon, appearing for the first time at 2019’s VNL; outside Mikaela Foecke, who didn’t travel last week because she got married on June 1 in Iowa; middle Chiaka Ogbogu; and opposite Annie Drews.
The 25-year-old Drews remains the top scorer for USA at VNL, but she didn’t play at her usual high level against Korea, making five hitting errors with just two kills in the first set and tacking onto that two misses from behind the service line. Kiraly kept her in the starting lineup for the second set, but eventually made a change, subbing Jordan Thompson in for Drews in the third set and keeping Thompson in for set four.
Middle Chiaka Ogbogu, however, who joined the national team last summer but is seeing playing time with the top team for the first time this summer, had a stellar night. She connected well with Poulter and finished the match with a team-high 16 points on 13 kills, one block, and two aces.
Thompson also excelled in her time on the court, collecting nine kills on 17 attempts in just a set and a half.
Wednesday night, the USA takes on Germany, which kicked off its stand in Lincoln with a five-set upset of Brazil. Maybe it’s not fair to call it an upset or consider Germany an underdog against Brazil anymore. Germany is ranked 13th in the world to Brazil’s No. 4, but the European squad has not beaten Brazil three times in a row: in four in both teams’ opening match of 2018 VNL, in five at 2018 World Championships, and now here in Lincoln.
World ranking aside, Germany’s defeat of Brazil proves it’s not a team to be taken lightly. Especially not star right side hitter Louisa Lippman, who had 30 points against Brazil. Twenty-year-old outside hitter Hanna Orthmann added 19.
The match between USA and Germany is scheduled for 7:30 PM CT and will stream live right here on FloVolleyball.