With Stanford grad Kristin Richards Hildebrand given a scheduled night off, the U.S. women's national volleyball team depended on its depth Saturday to pull out a five-set victory over Japan, 25-15, 25-19, 21-25, 23-25, 15-10, in the finale of the inaugural USA Volleyball Cup at JSerra High in San Juan Capistrano.
Cardinal grad Cassidy Litchman did see limited action in the match, which helped both teams prepare for the FIVB World Grand Prix, which gets under way on Aug. 2 at various locations around the world.
The world's top-ranked U.S. team travels to reigning Olympic gold medalist Brazil, ranked second in the world, for three matches on the first weekend. The Americans (8-0) meet Russia, Poland and the host Brazilians.
The top five teams in the 20-team field (each country will play a total of nine preliminary matches over three weekends) will advance to the Final Round, which begins Aug. 28, in Sapporo, Japan.
"Japan is definitely an unbelievable team and one of the toughest to score against in the world, and they showed that tonight in how they came back," U.S. setter Jenna Hagglund said. "It has been an incredible experience playing at home in from of a home crowd and hearing the 'USA' chant it is a dream feeling."
Nicole Fawcett led the Americans with 24 points, including 18 kills. Washington grad Courtney Thompson served as team captain for the contest, played before another sellout crowd.
"It has been amazing to play in front of great crowds this week," said U.S. player Lauren Paolini, who added 12 kills. "We feed off the crowd and they have been incredible. By seeing the crowds show up and supporting us means our hard work and dedication means a lot to people other than just our team. It is very meaningful to have the crowds come out night after night to support us in this event."
The U.S. held a 15-4 margin in blocks and an 8-5 edge in aces. Japan produced a narrow 69-63 margin in digs. Team USA held a 40.9 kill percent and .354 hitting efficiency (67-9-164). Japan was limited to a 35 kill percent and .206 hitting efficiency (63-26-180).