Jordan Larson
AP

U.S. women’s volleyball inspired by Andre Agassi, one step closer to Rio

Leave a comment

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — On the back of an extra business card with his name on it, U.S. coach Karch Kiraly scribbled a No. 1 and tucked it in his right pocket to show his players and acknowledge a significant step toward the goal of reaching the Rio Olympics.

One set down against a Canada team defending with tenacity, then two more Thursday night. The world’s top-ranked Americans need nine winning sets in all this week to secure their bid — after missing a chance to do so at last year’s World Cup in Japan.

Kiraly has nine such cards with him, an idea inspired from reading fellow 1996 Olympic champion Andre Agassi‘s autobiography “Open” a few years back and his approach to filing each set away during the course of a tennis Grand Slam.

Kiraly shared that with his team.

“That’s one way to think about it is really go hard for this next point and do that for a set of volleyball,” Kiraly said. “And if we get one of those, they can’t take it away from us. It gets us a little closer to the easiest route to winning this tournament, which is to try to notch nine sets.”

Jordan Larson returned with fanfare to her home state of Nebraska as she helped lead the U.S. to the 25-18, 25-18, 25-15 victory over Canada in the opener of its NORCECA Olympic qualifying tournament, drawing cheers from the crowd of 6,322 every time she served or touched the ball.

“It’s great to be home, the home crowd, they just love volleyball,” Larson said. “It’s so awesome to see.”

The Americans topped the 16th-ranked and lowest seed Canadians with their depth and powerful attack in the victory at Pinnacle Bank Arena to take the first step toward earning a berth into this summer’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

“We responded well and remembered we’ve been together for 10 days and it’s just not going to be something that comes together like that,” Nicole Fawcett said. “It’s a process.”

In the second set, Fawcett’s service ace put the U.S. up 23-17 and Kelsey Robinson‘s kill soon ended it, then Fawcett made a kill on match point. Kiraly’s 14-player squad this week features five players who settled for silver at the London Olympics in a disappointing loss to Brazil.

The Americans went 41-6 in 2015 but lost twice at the World Cup in Japan in late August and early September to miss a qualifying chance for Rio.

Canada dug out some tough balls, forcing the Americans to play longer points.

“We never shy away from long rallies,” outside hitter Megan Easy said. “We weren’t quite as crisp as we wanted to be. These tournaments are stressful. We found a way to kind of temper our nerves, playing in American finally. I was just proud of everyone that they got control of their nerves and we all just fought together.”

In Friday night’s lineup for the round-robin event, the U.S. takes on No. 15 Puerto Rico, a four-set loser in Thursday’s opening match to the seventh-ranked Dominican Republic — 17-25, 25-13, 25-23, 25-23.

Dominican Republic middle blocker Jineiry Martinez went out with her team down 9-8 in the fourth set and was carried to the bench. She said immediately afterward she hurt her right knee but it was “better” and she expects to play Friday against Canada.

“For our team the game is tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. I think we only have a chance against the U.S. when they play on 80 percent and we play 120,” coach Arnd Ludwig said. “I’m quite satisfied with how my team played today. We played a very good defensive game.”

Canada hasn’t reached the Olympics since 1996.

The public address announcer gave a shout out to the three former Nebraska players — Larson, Kayla Banwarth and Robinson, who spent one year with the recently crowned NCAA volleyball champion Cornhuskers.

“I’m on cloud nine right now, playing in front of the home crowd,” Robinson said. “It’s always special to come home here.”

MORE: U.S. men’s volleyball team clinches Olympic berth

Boglarka Kapas, world champion swimmer, tests positive for coronavirus

Boglarka Kapas
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Boglarka Kapas, the Hungarian swimmer and world 200m butterfly champion, said she tested positive for the coronavirus.

“I don’t have any symptoms yet, and that’s why it’s important for you to know that even if you feel healthy you can spread the virus,” was posted on her social media. “Please be careful, stay at home and stay healthy.”

Nine total members of the Hungarian national team — including swimmers and staff — have tested positive, according to the federation.

Kapas said her first test was negative but a second test showed she had the virus. She was staying in quarantine at home for two weeks.

Kapas, 26, won the 200m fly at last summer’s world championships by passing Americans Hali Flickinger and Katie Drabot in the last 25 meters. She clocked 2:06.78 to prevail by .17 of a second.

Kapas also took bronze in the Rio Olympic 800m freestyle won by Katie Ledecky.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

NHL players: Marie-Philip Poulin is world’s best female hockey player

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The U.S. may have the world’s best women’s hockey team, but NHL players believe Canadian Marie-Philip Poulin is the world’s best player.

Poulin received the most votes out of 496 responses in the 2019-20 NHLPA Player Poll, conducted before the season was suspended. The tally:

Poulin: 39.92%
Hilary Knight (USA): 36.29%
Kendall Coyne Schofield (USA): 15.52%
Emily Pfalzer Matheson (USA): 1.41%
Other: 6.85%

Last year, Knight received the highest percentage of votes from 203 NHL players (27.59), edging Poulin (24.14) with Amanda Kessel third (12.81) and Coyne Schofield and Pfalzer Matheson each receiving 5.91 percent.

Why were Poulin and Knight swapped this year? Perhaps Poulin’s Canadian team winning the debut of the NHL All-Star Skills Competition women’s 3-on-3 game on Jan. 24, even though Knight scored and Poulin did not.

Poulin, now 29, scored both goals in the 2010 Olympic final and the game-tying and -winning goals in the 2014 Olympic final. Even before her Olympic debut at age 18, the daughter of Quebec hospital workers was dubbed “the female Sidney Crosby.”

Knight, 30, led last April’s world championship tournament with seven goals as the U.S. won a fifth straight title. Poulin played 4 minutes, 44 seconds, total at the tournament, missing time with a knee injury.

This spring’s tournament, which was to start Tuesday, was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Winter Olympic sports season produced pain, stories to track for 2022