Home court advantage — with a crowd of 8,000 — wasn’t enough to get No. 3 USA the win on Thursday night as No. 4 Brazil knocked off the United States in four sets at Pinnacle Bank Arena to close out week three of Volleyball Nations League play.
Scores in Brazil’s favor were 25-19, 25-17, 22-25 and 25-20. The United States committed 10 more attack errors than the Brazilians while Brazil put down three more kills and served up two more aces.
The loss drops the U.S. to 7-2 in Volleyball Nations League play.
“Brazil just beat us,” USA coach Karch Kiraly said. “They played a really solid match of volleyball tonight. They passed at a very high level, so they out-passed us, they out-served us, they played really disciplined defense and so my hat’s off to them for playing a really strong match of volleyball. On our side, we were having trouble terminating. We weren’t getting the ball to the floor that much in the first and second games.”
Kiraly gave his two veteran outside hitters the start as former Huskers Jordan Larson and Kelsey Robinson shared the court for the first time this week; Robinson sat the first match and Larson sat the second. Mikaela Foecke, who started the first two matches, subbed into the match during the third set.
Larson and Foecke finished with eight kills apiece while Robinson chipped in six. Annie Drews led the United States with 16 kills and Dana Rettke added 13, but Gabriela Braga Guimaraes was nearly unstoppable for Brazil as she led everyone with 24 kills.
The United States and Brazil traded blows throughout much of the first set before a 4-1 run by Brazil made it 20-15. Drews sparked the U.S. with a kill and an ace and USA pulled within three a couple of times, but Brazil closed out the first set on a 3-0 run to take a 1-0 lead in the match.
Robinson led the U.S. with five kills and Larson added three, but the United States struggled defensively and from the service line. Brazil out-blocked the U.S. 4-0 in the first set and Drews’ ace was the only one of the set.
The United States played from behind for most of the second set as well. Brazil pulled ahead 5-3 before the U.S. tied it up, but it was all Brazil from there as the United States couldn’t find a way to string points together.
Brazil took a 14-10 lead, drawing a timeout from Kiraly, then stretched the lead to 16-11 at the second technical timeout of the set. USA cut into the lead with back-to-back points but Brazil responded with three straight and cruised from there.
Robinson recorded just one kill in the second set while Larson was held without one. Drews led the U.S. with five kills in the second set.
Kiraly made a couple lineup changes to start the third set, sending Feocke in for Robinson on the outside and Chiaka Ogbagu in for Tori Dixon at middle blocker.
Kiraly burned a timeout early in the third to give his team a tongue-lashing after it let a tip fall between three USA players.
“We were getting outworked, and that is not acceptable for USA so that’s why I called that early timeout in the third,” Kiraly said. “There are going to be plenty of times when we might get outscored not he scoreboard but we can’t get out-efforted.”
The team responded. A 3-0 run put the U.S. up 8-6 and they never trailed again.
Larson pushed the lead to three at 10-7 with a kill and the U.S. continued to stretch it out from there at 14-10 then 18-12. Brazil threatened a comeback, pulling within three at 20-17, and Kiraly burned his second timeout to regroup. Brazil cut it to two a couple of times but back-to-back kills by the middles gave the United States four set points and Drews finally finished it off on the third attempt to extend the match to a fourth frame.
Foecke had five kills in the set while Ogbogu added four as Kiraly’s adjustments paid dividends. Larson chipped in four kills as well. The U.S out-blocked Brazil 2-0 in the third; Brazil held a 7-3 advantage after the first two sets.
“Kelsey is one of our top passers,” Kiraly said. “She wasn’t able to create as much offensively for us so we made the change and Mikaela came in, and Mikaela is not as strong in the serve reception portion but was able to terminate more, so we made that trade — less efficiency in reception and more efficiency in attack. It worked for a while.”
After Brazil pulled ahead by two early, the U.S. tied it up at 9-9. Brazil responded with a 5-2 spurt to pull ahead by three. Virally sent Robinson back in for Foecke with the United States trailing 15-12. Brazil pushed the lead back to four at 17-13 and 18-14, then Drews got a kill. Foecke checked back in then Drews recorded a block and another kill to make it 18-17.
Brazil took a timeout then hit the U.S. with a 4-1 run before Foecke crushed a ball off a back-row defender for Brazil to make it 22-19. Rettke followed Foecke’s kill with one of her own on the slide, but Brazil blocked the 6-foot-8 Rettke on her next attempt, sparking a 3-0 run to end the match in four sets.
“Our team did a nice job of picking in up in those last two,” Kiraly said. “Mikaela came in and gave us some nice termination factor, so we got some things going. At least we were in the match by winning the third set. Happy that we made some adjustments and some improvements or got some upgrades, but not enough to make it go five.”
The announced crowd of 8,000 was the largest for the 12 matches played in Lincoln the last two years. Next up for the United States is an 8:30 a.m. flight to China for the next round of matches.
“We love playing here,” Kiraly said. “Nebraska is such a great volleyball state and Nebraska fans are so knowledgeable and passionate. We’re honored to be able to compete here for the second week in a row in Nations League. Who knows? Maybe we can make it a habit and be back in it next year. If we’re successful in early August in early August in qualifying for the Olympics then that would be really fun to come here in the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics.
“So yes, disappointing match, but in a long tournament like this with 15 matches against 15 quality opponents, I don’t think anybody can go undefeated. This was our second loss and there are probably going to be more, but it’s really good that we get pushed by a good team like Brazil because we learn a lot about our selves and where are strengths and weaknesses are and we’ve got some time to regroup now and come back strong as we travel tomorrow morning to China for week number four.”
Turkey is sitting atop the standings at 8-1 while the U.S. is tied with Italy, China and Poland with 7-2 records. Next week, USA will take on Turkey on Tuesday, Poland on Wednesday and China on Thursday.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.