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FIVB World Grand Prix Finals, 7.22.15

Former Nebraska players Kelsey Robinson (23) and Kayla Banwarth celebrate a point for the USA against Japan during the FIVB World Grand Prix Finals on Wednesday, July 22, 2015, at CenturyLink Center Omaha.

OMAHA — Kelsey Robinson made the most of her first start in a top-tier international volleyball match played in the United States.

The former Husker from Bartlett, Illinois, was second on the team in kills with eight as the U.S. opened the FIVB World Grand Prix finals round with a quick 25-12, 25-15, 25-18 sweep of fourth-ranked Japan on Wednesday.

For the top-ranked United States, the tougher matches come later in the week, when it faces No. 2 Brazil on Saturday and No. 3 China on Sunday.

A crowd of 5,105 attended the first day of the five-day tournament at CenturyLink Center Omaha.

The U.S. also swept Japan two weeks ago in the preliminary round, but that match was much closer.

Robinson and another former Husker, Kayla Banwarth, started. Jordan Larson-Burbach, the former Husker standout from Hooper, came in as a serving sub and played in the back row

Robinson led the U.S. with six kills in the first set, including swings for leads of 5-1 and 12-4.

“I’m just really happy to be in America,” Robinson said. “I got a little bit of the butterflies going out and some memories flooded back, but once we got out there, we settled in.”

Robinson was able to get kills against a small-but-scrappy Japan team.

“It was just being able to hit high and deep,” Robinson said. “A lot of times you see open net when the other side is shorter than you, so you just have to remember to hit high to avoid that soft block."

Robinson also had two blocks, five digs and 15 excellent serve receptions. U.S. coach Karch Kiraly said she was one of several U.S. players that had a fine match.

“One of her strengths for us is her ability to receive serve and put it where it needs to go a lot and keep us in-system a lot,” he said. “She did that nicely, and she, too, executed the game plan and had some nice blocks where she was lining up in the right spot. We have different lineups we do on different hitters and she was making the appropriate choices.”

Banwarth had a team-leading 13 digs.

Pride playing for country

Robinson said there is no other feeling as playing for your country.

“For me I get the chills every time the national anthem plays,” Robinson said. “I think just having my hand over my flag on my chest. When the national anthem plays, every time I take a moment and really soak it in that I represent my country right now, and then as soon as we step on the court it’s game time.”

Brazil, Japan also start 1-0

In the first match of the day, defending tournament champion Brazil defeated China 23-25, 25-20, 25-16, 25-14.

In the second match, Goncharova Nataliya had 27 kills to lead No. 7 Russia to a 26-24, 28-26, 25-19 win against No. 5 Italy.

— Brent C. Wagner

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Sports reporter

Brent has worked at the Journal Star for 14 years. His beats include Nebraska volleyball, women's basketball and high school soccer and cross country.

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