Larson dominates Italy to put USA third
Larson, the team’s inspirational captain, led the way with dominant play and intense leadership, producing seven winners to help the team bounce back from their shock defeat to Turkey a day earlier.
A home favourite thanks to her successful college career at the University of Nebraska, Larson refused to let up as Italy’s hopes were quickly snuffed out at the Bob Devaney Sports Center.
Kim Hill produced a polished performance with nine points on offense as the USA ended the VNL’s Nebraska leg on a positive note, having collected seven tournament points from a possible nine.
“Yesterday was difficult for us but we came out strong today,” Larson said. “We have only been together for a couple of days and we have a lot to build on.”
Middle blocker Marina Lubian, 18, and Anastasia Guerra put up a solid fight but were unable to prevent a mostly inexperienced Italian group from slipping to their third straight defeat of the competition. Both Lubian and Guerra powered home eight kills and a service winner apiece.
After the thrills of Wednesday night ultimately ended in disappointment, the home crowd were ready for a bounce back performance from the host nation, and they got one. The comprehensive nature of the result was just what coach Karch Kiraly was looking for and delivered a boost heading into the next round of matches, in which the USA will travel to Japan to take on that nation, plus Belgium and the Netherlands.
Following the completion of the first phase, the USA now sits in third place overall, behind the Netherlands and Turkey, while Italy is in second-to-last spot on a single point.
Kiraly was calm heading into the match, but made it clear that he expected a greatly improved output and enhanced focus. Within the opening minutes, the USA gave a clear signal of intent when Foluke Akinradewo smashed a spike into the face of Miryam Sylla to set up a 9-5 lead. While the Italian bravely shrugged off her discomfort, the tone of the match was set - the USA meant business.
Despite Italy’s best efforts, the Americans pressed forwards. A big block from Tetori Dixon teed up set point and the local supporters were soon celebrating a 1-0 advantage.
Another strong start gave the USA the ascendancy in the second, as Larson popped up with crucial interventions whenever Italy got within touching distance. A comical misstep on set point saw Larson swinging at thin air and laughing at the mishap, but Akinradewo finished things off emphatically moments later.
Italy was not content to let this leg of the VNL campaign slip by and raised a final spirited effort in the third. Guerra let fly with some big serving and Camilla Mingardi showed fight to give the visitors a 14-11 lead. It wasn’t enough.
The relentless nature of the USA game forces an aggressive approach from their opponents, meaning that mistakes inevitably creep in sooner or later. So it proved, a spate of misfires leveling the scores at 14 and from then on, there was no stopping Kiraly’s crew.
Hill showed pinpoint accuracy to go with her natural power as the USA moved ahead, and Dixon crushed a pair of winners to solidify the advantage.
Larson took the USA to the verge of victory with a stunning ace, before Michelle Bartsch-Hackley capped off a strong week with the decisive strike.
The USA were always going to be one of the favourites for the competition, coming in as defending world champions, and despite the Turkey setback have staked their claim as a leading contender for the trophy. However, some challenging road trips await.
Italy, meanwhile, are expected to recall several veteran players who were rested for the Nebraska trip, as they head to Suwon, where they will face host South Korea plus Germany and Russia, in week two.
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