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All Points West: Big Red gives U.S. volleyball big chance
July 22, 2016 Frank Marquez   

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University of Nebraska’s Kayla Banwarth, a 5-foot-10 Libero; Jordan Larson, a 6-foot-2 outside hitter; and Kelsey Robinson, another 6-foot-2 outside hitter made the 12-player roster for the U.S. Olympic Volleyball team headed for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The announcement came more than a week ago on July 12 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. For math wizards unlike myself, the Cornhuskers alumni make up one quarter of the team, which according to Head Coach Karch Kiraly represents the best chance the United States has at winning gold of any team in the past. How much of an impact they make on the floor will determine whether the former Nebraska players take the blame or do the happy dance.

“For three Nebraska volleyball players to make the U.S. team — which is currently ranked No. 1 in the world — it’s a great reflection of the commitment that Nebraska has made and the support that we give to our student-athletes,” Nebraska Volleyball Head Coach John Cook said in a released statement published in a World-Herald story.

Of course, there’s the rest of the team – no slouches by any means. Olympic veterans include Larson, middles Foluke Akinradewo, Christa Dietzen, and setter Courtney Thompson. That core of players is joined by newcomers Banwarth, Robinson, Kim Hill, Rachael Adams, Karsta Lowe, Kelly Murphy, Alisha Glass and Carlie Lloyd.

The current Olympic team brings the total to six, the number of Huskers who have mined for gold at previous Games. Past players include Nancy Metcalf (Meendering), class of 2001; Papillion-La Vista’s Allison Weston, who played for Nebraska from 1992-95; and Lori Endicott, whose jersey was retired in 1992 for a Husker career that spanned from 1982-85.

Larson, Nebraska class of 2008, played on the 2012 squad in London, which finished second best, and the 2014 federation World Champion squad. Among recent accolades, she was named the Best Spiker at the 2016 Norceca (North, Central America, and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation) Olympic qualification tournament, and the Most Valuable Player award for both the federation’s Club World Championship, and the CEV (Confederation Europeenne de Volleyball) Championship League after leading Turkish Club Eczacibasi to gold in each event.

Banwarth, Nebraska class of 2012, hails from Dubuque, Iowa, and is the team’s only libero. Among accolades, she was named the best receiver at the Norceca championship in 2015, and was the 2013 USA Volleyball Female Indoor most improved player of the year.

Robinson, class of 2013, hails from Bartlett, Illinois. She was named the Second Best Outside Spiker for 2015 federation World Grand Prix after leading the Finals in Receiving with an 80.5 percent efficiency percent.

According to USA Volleyball, the U.S. Women’s National Team, ranked No. 1 in the world by the Federation Internationale de Volleyball, has produced several ‘firsts’ in the current Olympic quadrennial.

Taking his first head coaching position, Kiraly took over the program in late September 2012. In 2014, he guided the U.S. Women to their first federation World Championship gold medal in 62 years, which also marked the Americans’ first gold medal in any of the three triple-crown events – the World Championship, the federation’s World Cup, and the Olympic Games.

The women hope to accomplish winning the elusive Olympic gold – the last first. The U.S. team earned Olympic silver medals in 1984, 2008 and 2012, and is poised to strike gold with the core of veterans mixed in with five players who joined the squad since 2013 and contributed heavily to the success of the squad in recent tournaments.

USA Volleyball also reported the U.S. Women, who have won six of their last eight tournaments dating back to the 2014 federation World Championship, returned from Thailand where it captured the silver medal in the federation World Grand Prix, the top annual international women’s volleyball tournament.

Team USA dropped a five-set thriller to the 2016 Olympic Games host Brazil in the title match on July 16, breaking the Americans’ nine-match win streak which included two wins over second-ranked China and a win over fourth-ranked Russia. The Americans have now reached the medal podium in eight straight tournaments.

As for the Olympic Games schedule, Team USA opens Pool B action on Aug. 6 versus Norceca rival Puerto Rico at 4:05 p.m. (MST), followed by the Netherlands on Aug. 8 at 2 p.m. The Americans challenge Serbia on Aug. 10, and Italy on Aug. 12 with both matches at 2 p.m.

The U.S. concludes pool play against second-ranked China on Aug. 14 at 4:05 p.m.

The top four teams in the two Olympic Games pools advance to the quarterfinals on Aug. 16.

The top seed in each pool will face the fourth seed in crossover competition, while a drawing of lots will determine crossover quarterfinal opponents for the second- and third-place teams in both pools.

The winners of the quarterfinal matches advance to the semifinal medal round on Aug. 18. The tournament concludes on Aug. 20 with the gold- and bronze-medal matches.

For TV and internet coverage, visit www.nbcolympics.com.

Without interjecting too much of my opinion, Nebraska’s program speaks for itself, and we might be hearing Go Big Red as much as U.S.A.

And I’ll be the first to lead the chant.

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