BOSSIER CITY, Louisiana — The USA women are going to the Olympics.
With a 3-0 record at the Tokyo Qualification Tournament hosted by the FIVB, Team USA finished in first place in Pool C, receiving one of six Olympic berths handed out this weekend.
The Americans faced Kazakhstan, Bulgaria, and Argentina in the round-robin qualification pool hosted in Bossier City, Louisiana, sweeping Kazakhstan on Friday (25-17, 25-10, 25-10) and Argentina on Sunday (25-22, 25-17, 25-13), but requiring five sets to get past Bulgaria on Saturday (21-25, 25-18, 21-25, 25-20, 15-10).
“We can be really proud with how we fought through here, especially the challenge that Bulgaria threw at us down two sets to one and the nice response we put together,” USA head coach Karch Kiraly said. “This is huge for the program. Everybody knows that we are going to Tokyo. We got that ticket locked in. We worked really hard for that this year. That helps in the planning, and it makes it that much closer in the distance. It is not that much distance to Tokyo.”
China, Italy, Brazil, Serbia, and Russia also punched their tickets to Tokyo through the Olympic qualification tournament, winning their respective pools. As the host country, Japan is also guaranteed a spot. The remaining five bids will be doled out at the five continential championships in January.
USA’s pin hitters led the charge in all three matches, with Kelsey Robinson tallying 13 points versus Kazakhstan, Jordan Larson collecting 23 versus Bulgaria, and rookie Jordan Thompson posting 16 points against Argentina.
"We are really lucky to have great depth in positions like the outside position,” Kiraly said. “Four world-class outside hitters in Kim Hill, Michelle Bartsch-Hackley, Kelsey Robinson, and Jordan Larson. And some great work by Annie Drews and Jordan Thompson. That is just two of positions where we have a lot of depth and a good blend of experience and youth. They have come together and worked very hard to earn this. They have a lot to be proud of."
Former University of Wisconsin star Lauren Carlini set all three qualification matches, while Megan Courtney spent the entire tournament in the libero jersey.
In the matches versus Kazakhstan and Argentina, the USA was dominant throughout, but Bulgaria sprinted out to a 2-1 lead on Saturday night, forcing the USA to secure the come-from-behind win in five sets.
Key substitutions—replacing Drews with Thompson and Hill with Kelsey Robinson—gave the USA a boost in the fourth and fifth sets, perhaps making all the difference in the final outcome. Thompson finished the match with 19 points, second on the team only to Larson. Robinson added 10 points.
“I am still trying to catch my breath and take it all in. It was a stressful match,” captain Larson said after defeating Bulgaria. “There was a lot riding on the line. It was important for us to take away the win. ... Jordan Thompson, she is still in college, but she has some guts. I am really proud of her.”
The team will now return to Anaheim, cheer on the USA men as they play in their own Olympic Qualification Tournament later this week in the Netherlands, and prepare for the FIVB World Cup in September.
"I mean we talk about it all the time,” Courtney said of earning the Olympic spot. “This was our big goal for the year. VNL win was good, but our main tournament was focusing on the Olympic qualifier. We took care of business although it wasn’t easy, teams definitely give it to us. We had to earn it. Just really excited for this team’s opportunity to play in Tokyo.”