Jordan Larson
AP

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

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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

Hayato Sakamoto, Japanese baseball MVP, tests positive for coronavirus

Hayato Sakamoto
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Hayato Sakamoto, an MVP of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) league, is one of two players from the Yomiuri Giants to test positive for the coronavirus, according to several Japanese media reports.

Sakamoto, a 31-year-old shortstop, and catcher Takumi Oshiro tested positive ahead of the NPB’s planned June 19 start to the season that had been delayed to the coronavirus.

The tests showed traces of the coronavirus, according to Kyodo News.

The Giants canceled Wednesday’s practice game with the Seibu Lions to limit the spread of the virus.

Sakamoto is the reigning Central League MVP. He has been called the Derek Jeter of Japan for playing the same position as the Yankee great and being the veteran captain of Japan’s equivalent club, the Giants, which own a record 22 Japan Series titles.

Sakamoto, who played in the last two World Baseball Classics, has been considered a lock for Japan’s baseball team at the Tokyo Games in 2021 as the most well known active player who hasn’t left for Major League Baseball. MLB is not expected to allow its top players to participate in the Olympics, which would keep the likes of Shohei Ohtani and Masahiro Tanaka off the Olympic roster.

The sport returns to the Olympic program for the first time since 2008, though it is not on the 2024 Olympic program nor guaranteed a place at the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

Japan reached the semifinals of all five Olympic baseball tournaments when the sport was previously on the medal program but never took gold.

In a 2018 survey, Sakamoto was ranked as Japan’s eighth-most popular athlete across all sports, foreign or domestic, active or retired.

Sky Brown, 11-year-old Olympic skateboard hopeful, suffers serious injuries in fall

Sky Brown Skateboard Fall
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Sky Brown, an 11-year-old British Olympic skateboarding hopeful, recently suffered her worst fall, requiring surgery, she said in a video posted from a hospital bed.

Brown suffered skull fractures and broke her left wrist and hand and was at first unresponsive upon arrival to a hospital, according to the BBC, which quoted her father.

Video of the fall from a skateboarding ramp was posted on her social media. She appeared to be wearing a helmet in the video.

“I don’t usually post my falls or talk about them because I want people to see the fun in what I do,” Brown said. “But this was my worst fall, and I just want everyone to know that, it’s OK, don’t worry. I’m OK. It’s OK to fall sometimes. I’m just going to get back up and push even harder. I know there’s a lot of things going on in the world right now. I want everyone to know that whatever we do, we’ve just go to do it with love and happiness.”

Brown is the 2019 World bronze medalist in the new Olympic sport’s park discipline.

Later Tuesday, Brown reposted an Instagram post from what appeared to be her father’s account. The caption of that post said Brown fell 15 feet to flat concrete.

“I held her in my arms and she bled helplessly moaning in and out of consciousness waiting for the helicopter to take her to the Hospital,” the caption read. “We spent the night sick and terrified not knowing if Sky was going to make it through the night, as the ICU team tried to get her conscious and kept her alive.

“4 days later Sky sits across from me with her full memory back, smiling, watching TikTok while Eating her favorite bad snacks.”

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Last week the worst thing I could ever ever imagined happened to @skybrown . She fell about 15ft off the side of a vert ramp to flat concrete. I held her in my arms and she bled helplessly moaning in and out of consciousness waiting for the helicopter to take her to the Hospital. We spent the night sick and terrified not knowing if Sky was going to make it through the night, as the ICU team tried to get her conscious and kept her alive. We prayed and begged God to give Sky another chance. Word came back while she was still unconscious, multiple fractures to her skull, a broken left arm, which she broke into pieces because she used it to break her fall, broken right fingers and lacerations to her heart and lungs. 4 days later Sky sits across from me with her full memory back, smiling, watching TikTok while Eating her favorite bad snacks. More importantly her Doctors and the trauma team say it’s a miracle how well she is dealing with the pain and recovering incredibly fast. They said it’s shocking and believe it’s because of her grit, positivity and attitude. Skys brother @oceanbrown has been so brave. He saw his sister fall to the ground lying in a pool of blood and was screaming in tears that night outside of the hospital. He has still not allowed into the hospital to see her. They miss each-other dearly, but no siblings are allowed to enter the hospital because of coronavirus. They’ve been spending hours a day on FaceTime with each other making funny faces to one another in fits of giggles and laughter. Sky promises Ocean daily that she will make a fast recovery so they can be together again. Sky is constantly joking and smiling and it’s hurts my heart to even imagine for a second a world without Sky; extremely thankful that I don’t have to. Thank you to the heroes that are the doctors, nurses and hospital staff that have tirelessly worked on her and helped her get to this point.

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