ARLINGTON, Texas — A Volleyball Nations League that started with so much promise ended in frustration for the USA women as they lost in five to Poland on Sunday in the bronze-medal match.
“We’re proud that our team emptied the tank and we tried every possible answer and came close,” USA coach Karch Kiraly said, “but this is a bitter disappointment. We need to use this to get better for our the next tournament, for the Olympic qualifier, and for next year.”
The Americans continually rallied throughout the 25-15, 16-25, 25-19, 18-25, 17-15 defeat.
And Kiraly tried everything, including a complete change of the lineup after the first set.
“It felt like there were a lot of big momentum swings and it was anybody’s game at any point,” veteran opposite Annie Drews said. “At the end it could have one either way.”
That’s for sure, because in the fifth set, top-seeded Poland, which finished the tournament 12-3 and was coming off a semifinals loss to China, built a 6-2 lead and was still up 10-8 when things got interesting. Second-seeded USA (11-4), coming off a loss to Türkiye, tied it for the first time at 11-11 on a hitting error by Magdalena Stysiak, who had team highs of 20 kills and also nine errors.
The match was tied four more times as both teams had a mixture of big plays and unforced errors. The USA took its first lead at 14-13 on a tremendous kill by Drews that forced Poland into a timeout. But Poland tied it on a huge kill by Stysiak.
The USA got another lead at 15-14 when Martyna Lukasik served into the net, but Stysiak tied it again and then gave her team match point with back-to-back kills.
Poland won it when Agniesszka Korneluk blocked Drews and the celebration was on. It was Poland’s first VNL medal
Unlike other teams here, the Americans will disperse individually to their homes and get a couple of weeks off before reuniting in Anaheim next month. Next up is the “FIVB Road to Paris Olympic” qualifying tournament in Poland in September.
Avery Skinner, who entered in the second set, led the USA with 15 kills, three blocks and five digs. Drews had nine kills, a block and three digs. Middles Chiaka Ogbogu and Asjia O’Neal each had four kills, four blocks and an an ace. Robinson Cook had six kills and seven digs and Jordan Thompson five kills and six digs.
Micha Hancock and then Lauren Carlini made her VNL debut late in the first set. Hancock had two aces, the second as a serving sub that pulled the USA to 8-7 in the fifth set. Carlini had two kills, seven digs and a block.
“It was sad we couldn’t come up with it in the end,” Carlini said. ” … The comeback especially in the fifth was great and we had match point. That’s something we’re going to work on over this next training block, executing when it matters.”
Libero Justine Wong-Orantes had 12 digs and was replaced by Morgan Hentz in the fifth set and she had four digs.
All 14 USA players saw action in the match played before a crowd of 4,402 at College Park Center on the campus of the University of Texas-Arlington.
“I think your guess is as good as mine on who our starting lineup is,” Drews said. “That’s a blessing and a curse of our team. At times I think it shows that we’re constantly shifting in people who are very capable. We keep defining our puzzle and it’s going to come together quite nicely.”
Stysiak had a block and two aces and 10 digs to go with her 20 kills.
“We had never won a medal in the VNL and I am really happy and proud,” Stysiak said. “I want to congratulate the Americans for their performance too. We have a lot of respect for them, but we showed today that when we play as a team, we can beat anyone.
“For me, it’s a dream to win this medal. We know how much we worked for this and it’s amazing to have done it. We wanted it so much.”
Lukasik had 12 kills, a block and an ace and Olivia Rozanski had 10 kills, three blocks and an ace. Korneluk had nine kills, three blocks and an ace and Magdalena Jurczyk had eight kills and two blocks. Maria Stenzel had 17 digs.
“There was a lot of emotion and a really hard match,” Rozanski said. “We know that playing the USA in the USA is even harder. But we fought to the end.”
If this tournament is a harbinger, the race to the Olympics, starting with the next tournament, should be something else. The USA, by the way, plays Poland on September 23, in Lodz, Poland. Earlier in VNL, the USA beat Poland on June 28 in one of the closest, longest matches of the VNL campaign, 17-25, 25-15, 27-25, 28-30, 16-14.
Sunday, Poland had 63-50 kills advantage, the USA led in blocks 14-11, and Poland had seven aces and 14 errors and the USA five aces and 11 errors.
“Honestly, the way the teams approached the competition was completely different,” Poland coach Stefano Lavarini said.
“The top teams used the competition, in my opinion, to do some experimenting and give experience to some players. But there were others, teams like us, having the goal of needing to care about Olympic qualification and FIVB ranking. So we needed to put a lot on the VNL.
“That probably balanced the competition a little bit, but at the same time give some medium teams to get more confidence and be even more competitive.”
The first serve in volleyball in the Paris Olympics is on July 27, 2024.
The finish was worth $180,000 for the USA. Poland got $300,000. In the gold-medal match later between Türkiye and China, the winner was playing for $1 million and the loser $500,000. The total purse was $2.3 million.