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No. 1-ranked U.S. women’s volleyball team named; pursues first Olympic gold

United States v Brazil - 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League Final

NANJING, CHINA - JULY 07: Players of the United States celebrate after winning the 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League final match between the United States and Brazil at Nanjing Olympic Sports Centre on July 7, 2019 in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province of China. (Photo by Visual China Group via Getty Images/Visual China Group via Getty Images)

Visual China Group via Getty Ima

The 12 athletes who will vie for the United States’ first Olympic women’s volleyball gold medal were announced by USA Volleyball on Monday.

The average age of the team is 25, with the majority of the players making their Olympic debut in Tokyo next month. Only four – outside hitters Kim Hill, Jordan Larson and Kelsey Robinson, and middle blocker Foluke Akinradewo Gunderson – return from the 2016 team that won bronze in Rio. Larson and Akinradewo Gunderson were also on the silver-medal team from London.

Larson, 34, has said that the Tokyo Olympics will be her final tournament with the national team. Akinradewo Gunderson, 33, has been making a comeback in the sport since giving birth to son Olukayode Ayodele in late 2019.

The U.S. women’s team has entered the Olympics as a top contender in the past but never managed to win a coveted gold medal in the 11 Olympic tournaments the team has entered, coming away with two silver and three bronze medals.

Once again a favorite going into Tokyo, the U.S. is ranked No. 1 in the world and won the past two Volleyball Nations League tournament titles. The team was second to China, the reigning Olympic champion, at the 2019 World Cup.

The U.S. is currently leading the 2021 Nations League standings, ahead of Turkey and Brazil, runners-up the past two years.

Brazil, the 2008 and 2012 Olympic gold medalist, is ranked second in the world, followed by China and Turkey.

Karch Kiraly, a two-time Olympic champion in indoor volleyball and once in beach, is at the helm of the team. Kiraly was appointed national team head coach after the London Olympics, leading the team to the 2014 World title and 2016 Olympic bronze.

“We’re extremely grateful for the extra time that the Olympic postponement provided,” Kiraly said in a USA Volleyball release. “Our core group of 23 women’s national teamers has done amazing work in the last 14 months, setting us up for phenomenal trust, connection, purpose and performance.”

The eight Olympic rookies, all of whom have played in the Volleyball Nations League, named to the team are outside hitter Michelle Bartsch-Hackley, opposites Annie Drews and Jordan Thompson, setters Micha Hancock and Jordyn Poulter, middles Chiaka Ogbogu and Haleigh Washington, and libero Justine Wong Orantes. Hancock competed at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in 2010, taking silver.

Poulter is the youngest member of the team at 23, while Larson is the oldest.

“Each one of the 12 contributes unique skills and qualities that make her the right person for the job,” Kiraly said. “This collection of special people who are elite volleyball players is poised to make a fierce Olympic run.”

Six alternates were also chosen: setter Lauren Carlini, outside hitters Kathryn Plummer and Sarah Wilhite Parsons, middle blockers Tori Dixon and Hannah Tapp, and libero Megan Courtney.

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