Women's Volleyball Semifinal Preview: USA versus Korea
Bill Kauffman, USA Volleyball
The U.S. Olympic Women's Volleyball Team, ranked No. 1 in the world, continued its path toward a first-ever Olympic Games gold medal with a victory over NORCECA rival Dominican Republic in the quarterfinal round on Tuesday setting up a rematch with Korea in the semifinals on Thursday at 3 p.m. local time (7 a.m. PT) at Earls Court in London.
The U.S. Women, which is 6-0 at the 2012 London Games and 29-1 overall this year, is the only undefeated team in the Olympic Games women's volleyball competition. The Americans topped Korea in four sets (25-19, 25-17, 20-25, 25-21) to open the 2012 Olympic Games.
The other semifinal will pit Japan against defending Olympic Games champion Brazil. Both teams won extended five-set quarterfinal matches as the lower seed over China and Russia, respectively.
In the USA-Korea 2012 Olympic Games pool clash on July 28, Destinee Hooker (San Antonio, Texas) tallied a Team USA high 21 points while Jordan Larson (Hooper, Neb.) added 16 points and Foluke Akinradewo (Plantation, Fla.) chipped in 15 points. All three were participating in their first-ever Olympic Games match. On the opposite side of the net, Yeon-Koung Kim led Korea with 29 points and 13 points alone in the third set.
The Americans hold a 9-3 record over Korea, counting the four-set win just over a week ago. The two teams have faced off just three times since 2006, and Korea's last victory was in 2005. In Olympic Games competition, Team USA is 5-2 overall against Korea.
Team USA, regardless of opponent on the opposite side of the net, has worked to improve on each point of the match. To reach the playoffs, the Americans defeated No. 2 Brazil (3-1), No. 3 China (3-0), No. 7 Serbia (3-0), No. 8 Turkey (3-0) and No. 15 Korea (3-1) during pool play at the 2012 Olympic Games.
"I think we're capable of playing better and I think one of the things that's been, I would dare say, fairly amazing for me during our time here is that I think every time we've step on the floor we gotten a little bit better," U.S. Olympic Women's Volleyball Team Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon (Christchurch, New Zealand) said. "And (Tuesday night versus Dominican Republic) obviously we got better at dealing with having to play without our starting setter. That's a pretty big deal in a quarterfinal of an Olympic match. But I thought our team responded to that challenge very well."
Courtney Thompson (Kent, Wash.) received her first Olympic Games start in the quarterfinal match victory over Dominican Republic in place of Lindsey Berg (Minneapolis) and ran the offense to a 43.0 kill percent and .360 hitting efficiency (43-7-100) with 34 running sets. During the match, Destinee Hooker (San Antonio, Texas) ignited the U.S. offense with 19 points via 15 kills on 38 attacks and four blocks. Foluke Akinradewo (Plantation, Fla.) added 10 kills on 13 errorless attacks and a block.
"As far as what I expect when we're not playing with Lindsey, you saw the team," McCutcheon said. "There were a couple of times we weren't quite in rhythm, but for 95 percent of the match we played quite nicely and that's what we expect. I mean Courtney's on this team because she's an Olympian, and she can set."
Berg remains day-to-day and it is uncertain who will start at setter for the U.S. in the semifinal.
"We have 12 people for a reason," Berg said. "Things happen, and unfortunately this happened to me, but I can't be selfish. If I can't be out there and be my best, it's better that someone who's 100 percent be out there, and Courtney did great (versus Dominican Republic)."
Team USA's offense has been paced by three first-time Olympians. Hooker, who has become a dynamic and terminating opposite, leads the U.S. offense at the Olympics with 123 points on 102 kills, 18 blocks and three aces for third place in Best Scorer. Hooker ranks second in Best Spiker with a .357 hitting efficiency (102-22-224). Meanwhile, Akinradewo has added 72 points (51 kills, 20 blocks, 1 ace) for 15th in overall scoring. Larson has contributed 62 points (54 kills, 6 blocks, 2 aces) for 22nd place while ranking eighth in Best Spiker with a .311 hitting efficiency. Logan Tom (Salt Lake City, Utah), a four-time Olympian, has tacked on 53 points with a .242 hitting efficiency for 14th place.
Akinradewo leads the Best Blocker category with a 1.00 block average through five matches, while Hooker is ranks third with a 0.90 block average.
Nicole Davis (Stockton, Calif.), the starting libero, ranks fourth in Best Digger with a 4.05 dig average, while Tom averages 2.80 digs for 11th place. Davis also ranks third in Best Libero with an average of 8.00 digs and excellent receptions that includes a 75.2 excellent reception percent for fifth place in Best Receiver. Berg, despite missing the quarterfinal round, still ranks fourth in Best Setter with a 9.60 running set average.
The U.S. Women are in search of its first Olympic Games gold medal after winning silver medals in 2008 in Beijing and 1984 in Los Angeles. Team USA also won the bronze in 1992 in Barcelona. Aside from the Olympics, the U.S. has not won a major season-ending tournament including the FIVB World Championship and FIVB World Cup. However, the Americans have won the FIVB World Grand Prix, the premier annual international women's volleyball tournament, the last three years and five times overall.
For Korea, Yeon-Koung Kim has scored 165 points during the course of the 2012 Olympics for first place in Best Scorer -- 41 points more than second-place Ekaterina Gamova of Russia. Kim has converted 146 of her 315 attacks in kills with a .343 hitting efficiency for third in Best Spiker. Song-Yi Han has added 79 points for 11th place in scoring. Hyo-Jin Yang and Kim rank eighth and ninth, respectively, in Best Blocker with averages of 0.64 and 0.56 blocks. Kim ranks eighth in Best Server with a 0.20 ace average. Hae-Ran Kim has averaged 3.84 digs per set for fifth place and is fifth in Best Libero. Sa-Nee Kim ranks fifth in Best Setter with 9.08 running sets average.
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