USA edge Thailand 3-2 in thrilling Grand Champions Cup tie
The win saw the Americans raise their record to 3-1 for seven points, while Thailand dropped to 0-4 but picked up their first point in the tournament.
Thailand’s Onuma Sittirak was the top scorer in the match with 28 points, while Jordan Larson-Burback led USA with 23.
USA middle blockers Lauren Paolini and Cursty Jackson contributed 16 and 15 points, respectively, in the victory. Thailand's Wilavan Apinyapong and Pleumjit Thinkaow each scored 14 points in the losing cause.
USA earned 11 blocking points, while the Thais had nine. Both teams had three service points. The Americans committed 26 errors to Thailand’s 18.
The Americans improved to 15-1 their lifetime record against Thailand in official FIVB competitions.
Going into the match, Thailand had only beaten USA once against 14 defeats in FIVB tournaments but it looked as if they would have a good chance of collecting their second win after a blistering performance in the first set. With two of the Americans’ first three points coming from blocks, it seemed that the Thais might struggle against their taller opponents. But the first timeout of the match came from USA coach Karch Kiraly – after Sittirak picked up her second block of the set, equalling Thailand’s blocking output from the previous day against Japan. When the Americans fell 14-10 behind after some sloppy play, Kiraly called his team off court again, but things didn’t get much better for USA. Pleumjit Thinkaow and Wilavan Apinyapong provided two more blocks for the Thais and Sittirak laid down two terrific thunderbolts as Thailand moved into an 11-point lead at 23-12. Malika Kanthong’s half-hit spike brought up setpoint and Sittirak put the Thais 1-0 up with another rocket through the American defence.
Things were closer in the first phase of the second set and the Americans started to find holes in the Thai defence, which Larson-Burbach and Lauren Paolini were happy to exploit. The Thais were two points ahead at the first technical timeout but the Americans turned the pressure up in the second phase with Cursty Jackson delivering a couple of telling blows, helping her team to a three-point advantage at the second TTO. But three dropped points later, Kiraly called a timeout. The Americans moved back into the lead and Thailand called a timeout at 20-18, but after another good block by Thinkaow that levelled the scores at 22, Kiraly called his players off court again. The Thais saved two setpoints but on the third the usually unflappable Nootsara Tomkom failed to set up Sittirak properly and the two players collided as they tried to get the ball over the net. Sittirak got up slowly with an apparent facial injury. The pain of losing the set 27-25 probably hurt more.
Sittirak stayed in the game but committed two early errors as the Americans breezed into a 5-1 lead, at which point the Thais called a timeout. Good blocks by Thinkaow and Apinyapong steadied the Thai ship, but the Americans still lead by three at the first TTO. At 13-10, the Thais got great hitting from Kanthong and Apinyapong (twice) and drew level, prompting Kiraly to call a timeout. Two sweet hits from Thinkaow saw the Thais go 16-15 ahead at the second TTO, but the match stayed close to 19-19 when a block by Paolini on Kanthong put the Americans ahead for good. They earned three setpoints on a tough hit by Larson-Burbach and a crisp cross-court shot by the same player ended the set and put USA 2-1 ahead.
Nothing could separate the two teams through to 7-7 in the fourth set but three straight points by Paolini put the Americans 10-7 up and forced a Thai timeout. The Thais levelled quickly with two shots from Sittirak and an unreturned serve from Tomkom, and the two teams stayed close until an ace by Sittirak gave Thailand a two-point lead at 20-18 and prompted another American timeout. This time, the Thais held on and the set concluded with successive USA errors.
After dropping three straight points to fall 3-2 behind in the deciding set, Thailand called a timeout. The Americans did likewise after dropping the next three, but it was level at 6-6. A sharp shot from Sittirak and a long shot by Larson-Burbach had the Thais two points up at the change-around but sloppy Thai defending allowed the Americans to take control and they moved into a three-point lead at 12-9. Thailand closed to within a point at 13-12, but Cassidy Lichtman brought up matchpoint with a shot that deflected off a Thai player. The Thais saved one matchpoint before Larson-Burbach thumped a winner through the Thai defence.