China end USA's unbeaten run in scintillating style

 

Osaka, Japan, October 10, 2018 - The Osaka Municipal Central Gymnasium was transformed into Chinatown on Wednesday night as the world's top-ranked team demolished the reigning world champions and world No.2 USA 3-0 with an exhilarating display of fast-paced, power-packed volleyball. The Rio Olympic champions beat the United States 25-17, 26-24, 25-18 to improve their win-loss record to 7-1 - and drop the Americans to the same mark with just one game to go in the second round.

The stands were packed with red - shirts and flags of hundreds of Chinese supporters - and down on the court the Chinese were a blur of yellow shirts as the USA had no answer to their onslaught.

Captain Zhu Ting led her team with 19 points, 17 of them spikes, and Gong Xiangyu added 14 with 11 spikes and three blocks in another top-notch individual performance.

The Americans had 14 points from captain Jordan Larson and nine apiece from Michelle Bartsch-Hackley and Karsta Lowe but it was not their night.

As expected, these two great rivals produced a fast-paced start - and Kelly Murphy ended a punishing rally with a smooth winner to bring the scores level 11-11. Foluke Akinradewo and Kimberly Hill added to this score but the Americans trailed 16-13 at the second TTO. China's 2.01-metre middle blocker Yuan Xinyue was in inspiring form again and captain Zhu Ting could always be relied upon to score points at critical times.

Trailing 19-15, the United States called a TO but were greeted on their return with a ferocious winner at the net by Yan Ni. Gong Xiangyu continued her outstanding form in this tournament to pound China further forward and leave the Americans not knowing where the next attack would come from. Set point came as early as 24-17 and Zhu followed up her own serve to crash home the winner for 25-17 - her seventh point of the first set.

The USA turned to Michelle Bartsch-Hackley for more firepower and she made her presence felt with a clean winner from the left as the second set began to take shape. A crunching block by Yan Ni on Bartsch-Hackley gave China a three-point advantage at the first TTO 8-5. Larson led her team with some cultured spiking and Bartsch-Hackley rallied around her captain to smash through China's defensive formation.

The Americans lost their way on a couple of receptions and the ball bounced dead, but they regrouped and came back at China with everything they had in their armoury.

The second set was brilliant entertainment. China had set point at 24-23 but Lowe's winner prolonged the action before China clinched it 26-24 at their second opportunity when Larson, stretching with all her might to save her team, fired agonisingly wide.

In the third set, Gong's stunning block on Bartsch-Hackley forced the American wing spiker into an attack error on the next play and China really looked in the mood at 4-1 and a USA TO. The USA came off again at 11-6 and China resumed with Zhu's flying winner from the left - poetry in motion from the Chinese captain.

Lowe continued to batter away productively on the right flank but her string of points could not stop China going into the second TTO 16-11 with a slicing spike from Zhang after a looping cross-court pass from Ding Xia.

It was exhilarating stuff from China and the Americans were hanging on for dear life. Akinradewo spiked at the net and Lauren Gibbemeyer kept the USA points coming but they were too far behind a fired-up China, who clinched the third set 25-18 for 3-0.