By Janie Mccauley ,AP
LINCOLN, Nebraska — Perhaps losing a set might have been a positive for the world No. 1 U.S. women’s volleyball team.
The Americans had to regroup to put away Puerto Rico.
Karsta Lowe and Tori Dixon provided a powerful attack in the crucial third set, Foluke Akinradewo and Kelsey Robinson set the tone with strong blocking up front, and the U.S. team moved one step closer to securing an Olympic bid with a 25-14, 24-26, 25-12, 25-14 win over the scrappy Puerto Ricans on Friday night.
“What we’ve learned from the past two matches we’ve played is that no one’s going to hand it to us,” Akinradewo said. “We learned that patience is definitely the key.”
Akinradewo keyed the attack in the fourth set along with Nicole Fawcett as the Americans clinched at least a second-place finish, which would keep them in the race to Rio.
They will look to win this qualifying event and earn the NORCECA automatic bid for the Rio de Janeiro Games in the final match of their round-robin schedule Saturday night against seventh-ranked Dominican Republic, which rallied from one set down to beat No. 16 Canada in the first match Friday, 25-27, 25-16, 26-24, 25-20, for its second victory in Nebraska.
With a cast of big hitters on coach Karch Kiraly’s 14-player roster, it just took getting a few of them going down the stretch. Not to mention some timely defense from the back row as Puerto Rico dug out some tough balls.
“We’ve been working really hard on defense and staying patient,” Natalie Hagglund said. “That’s what’s so special about USA Volleyball, every single player on this team is great, amazing players. We can trust if one person isn’t necessarily doing great or tired one night that someone else can come in and play and push that other side.”
Kiraly is substituting liberally at this stage given his deep team featuring so many players he trusts to deliver on the big stage, and also to regularly give opponents new, varying looks.