USA win tough five-setter against Russia in Grand Champions Cup
The win saw USA raise their record to 2-1 for five points, while Russia dropped to 1-2 and four points.
Natalia Malykh was the top scorer in the match with 26 points, while the Americans’ top scorer was Jordan Larson-Burbach with 23. USA setter Alisha Glass was named Player of the Match.
Nicole Fawcett contributed 15 points, including three big aces, to the victory, while Kirstin Hillebrand and Lauren Gibbemeyer added 12 and 10, respectively, in the win. Russia's Liuvob Shashkova finished with 22 in the losing effort.
Russia had the advantage in blocking points 17-9, while USA dominated the serving 9-2. Both sides committed 24 errors.
The Americans started the match badly. Natalia Malykh landed two big spikes and a missed set saw USA drop to 0-4, when coach Karch Kiraly called a timeout. The Americans picked up their first point with a good hit by Lauren Gibbermeyer to make the score 6-1, but the Russians were six points clear at the first technical timeout. Kiraly called his second timeout a point later to try and settle his team, but everything seemed to be going Russia’s way. At 12-3, the Americans started to find their game and give the Russians something to think about. Kristin Hildebrand launched some rockets and when USA closed the gap to 20-15, Russia coach Iury Marichev called a timeout. But the Russians had missile launchers of their own and Liubov Shashkova and Daria Isaeva steered their team to a 1-0 lead.
Russia maintained their good rhythm at the start of the second set. Anastasia Shiyakhovaya and Malykh delivered some meaty kills and a block by Victoria Chaplina on Nicole Fawcett saw the Russians five points ahead at the first TTO. The Americans fought back with successive blocks – Hildebrand on Shashkova and Fawcett on Chaplina – as they kept the pressure on the Russians and narrowed the gap to two points at 13-11, when Marichev hauled his players off court. USA drew level at 17-17 after successive mistakes by Chaplina, but two wayward shots by Hildebrand restored Russia’s two-point lead and Kiraly called a timeout. USA drew level again on a superbly placed shot by Fawcett and Marichev called his second timeout when the Americans went into the lead for the first time at 20-19 after a powerful thump by Jordan Larson-Burbach. Two more big hits by the American put USA in control and they earned four setpoints on a rotation error, which was symptomatic of how Russia had lost their muse. Cursty Jackson delivered the final blow to even the match at 1-1.
Two good first-time tipovers at the net by setter Ekaterina Pankova allowed Russia to take a one-point lead at the first TTO of the third set and after a misplaced shot by Fawcett allowed Russia to go ahead 13-10, Kiraly called a timeout. Two more USA errors gave the Russians a five-point lead at the second TTO. Five points later, they didn’t have any lead at all. USA ended an eight-point run three points ahead at 19-16 and the Russians were clearly rattled. Pankova was yellow-carded after being penalised for a double touch and with the score at 23-18, Marichev called a timeout. But it was too late to change anything. A thunderbolt from Fawcett brought up setpoint and Jackson again had the honour of delivering the winning hit, putting USA 2-1 up.
Back came Russia with a strong start to the fourth set. Shashkova opened up with two kills and was supported by a brace from Malykh. After a block by Shashkova on Fawcett, Kiraly called a timeout at 1-5 and Larson-Burbach responded with two good kills. But Malykh reasserted Russian dominance with a block on Fawcett and two thunderous spikes that put her team 8-3 ahead. Marichev called a timeout after Fawcett scored with a big hit down the line and a block on Chaplina that narrowed the gap to three points at 9-6. At 12-8, Fawcett came up with three monster serves, forcing Marichev to use his second timeout. Her next huge serve levelled the scores at 12, but Russia crept ahead again to lead by two at the second TTO. The Americans drew level again at 17, but Kiraly called a timeout when Russia’s Chaplina blocked Hildebrand to make the score 20-19 for Russia. Chaplina immediately blocked Fawcett to give her team a two-point advantage, but the scores were level again at 22, 23 and 24. A netted serve by Jenna Hagglund handed setpoint to the Russians and a block by Shashkova took the match to a fifth set.
Russia led 5-3 after a block by Malykh on Fawcett and a spike by Chaplina, prompting Kiraly to call a timeout. The Americans levelled at 6-6 and led by two points at 9-7 following a huge kill by Hildebrand, but it was level again at 9-9. After the Americans dropped two points to make the scores level at 11, Kiraly called another timeout. The scores were level at 12 and 13 when Malykh sent a shot down the line just wide to give USA matchpoint. Malykh then did exactly the same thing to hand the match to the Americans.
On Saturday, Russia will play Brazil and the USA will play Thailand.