For the second year in a row, the United States women’s national volleyball team could not quite finish off a sweep of its three matches in Lincoln.
On the final day of the Americans’ stay in Lincoln this week for the FIVB Volleyball Nations League, Brazil beat the United States on Thursday in a rivalry match in four sets, 25-19, 25-17, 22-25, 25-20.
Team USA had a 2-1 record in Lincoln, just like last year when the same tournament was in Lincoln.
With a 7-2 record, the United States sits in third place in the VNL standings through three weeks of the tournament that has a $2 million purse. Brazil improved to 6-3.
On Friday, the Americans travel to Jiangmen, China, to play Turkey, Poland and China. After that they’ll finish preliminary round play in Russia.
Thursday’s match was played in front of 8,000 fans at Pinnacle Bank Arena. That crowd included about 100 Brazilian fans, and Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook watching from the fourth row the three ex-Huskers on the 14-player roster this week, the most for any college.
In the two years USA has played in Lincoln for the Volleyball Nations League, the USA has a 4-2 record.
“In a long tournament like this with 15 matches against 15 quality opponents I don’t think anybody can go undefeated,” said U.S. coach Karch Kiraly. “This was our second loss, and there are probably going to be more. It’s really good that we get pushed by a good team like Brazil because we learn a lot.”
Brazilian wing spiker Gabriela Braga Guimaraes had a match-high 24 kills, including on match point through the USA blockers.
Through the first two sets, the United States wasn’t serving or blocking well enough to slow down the Brazilian attack, with Brazil having 32 kills, compared to 24 for USA.
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“Brazil just beat us,” Kiraly said. “They played a really good match today. They passed at a very high level. They outserved us. They played really disciplined defense. So hat’s off to them.
“On our side we were having trouble terminating. We weren’t getting the ball to the floor that much in the first and second game, and we were getting outworked, and that is not acceptable."
Annie Drews led the Americans with 16 kills, and Dana Rettke had 13. Ex-Huskers Jordan Larson and Mikaela Foecke had eight kills apiece.
Foecke did not start, but entered the match in the third set as a sub for Kelsey Robinson, and helped USA extend the match. Foecke had two kills in the first few rallies of the set. Later, she had back-to-back kills for a 14-10 lead. The second kill came on an out-of-system set from Larson, who played at Nebraska 10 years before Foecke. Foecke had five kills in the third set.
“Mikaela came in and gave us some nice termination factor, so at least we were in the match,” Kiraly said.
Robinson is in her fifth year with the national team. But last season Robinson played libero for most of the season to help the U.S. upgrade at the position.
“She performed a really selfless act for the team,” Kiraly said. “We had a need in that position last year and she embraced that role. Then she went back overseas and had a very good club season playing for one of the best club teams in the world, Vakifbank in Istanbul, at her outside hitter position. Put that together, with a combination of factors, and that’s where she fits in really well for USA.”
This is the fifth time in seven years that the national team has played matches in Nebraska. And there is a chance they'll be back next summer, and if they qualify later this summer they would be in Lincoln again just a few months before the 2020 Olympics.
“That would be really fun to come here in the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympics,” Kiraly said.