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U.S. women win Volleyball Nations League, continue dominance in run-up to Olympics


The U.S. women’s volleyball team won the FIVB Volleyball Nations League -- which has become a familiar sentence -- and heads to this summer’s Olympics as the gold-medal favorite.

The world No. 1-ranked U.S. has never won Olympic women’s volleyball gold in its 11 attempts and will travel to Tokyo for the July 25-Aug. 8 tournament eager to change that after taking down world No. 2 Brazil, 3-1, in Friday’s VNL final.

Coached by volleyball legend Karch Kiraly, the U.S. team playing in the final is the same as the 12-player Olympic team that was named earlier this month, led by two-time Olympic medalists Jordan Larson and Foluke Akinradewo Gunderson, plus 2016 bronze medalists Kim Hill and Kelsey Robinson.

The final started out with Brazil winning the first set, 28-26, but the Americans came back to win three straight, 25-23, 25-23, 25-21.

Michelle Bartsch-Hackley, the 2018 VNL MVP, was the leading scorer with 22 points. She was again named league MVP.

Brazil’s Gabriela “Gabi” Braga Guimaraes, who was on four winning World Grand Prix teams leading into the 2016 Olympics, had 18. Teammate Ana Carolina da Silva was the top blocker, taking eight points on her 22 attempts.

The U.S. had three aces to Brazil’s zero, and one less error.

Brazil still holds a lead in its all-time match record against the U.S., 32-29, which includes the 2008 and 2012 Olympic gold medals.

The FIVB launched the VNL in 2018, replacing the longstanding World Grand Prix for the women and World League on the men’s side, and the U.S. women have won all three editions of the annual tournament held to date.

Featuring the top 16 teams in the world, the VNL typically sees four, four-team pools play in different cities around the globe each week, followed by a final round.

As a precaution, the 2021 VNL was held entirely in Remini, Italy, from May 25-June 25, in a bubble-like atmosphere with no fans.

The U.S. won the inaugural title, 3-2, over Turkey in 2018. The 2019 final saw Brazil finish runner-up as the American women again won 3-2. The 2020 edition was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

After going 19 months without national-team play, nothing was guaranteed as the U.S. squad entered this season.

But the Americans picked up right where they left off and cruised to the final round, going 14-1 in pool play; the sole loss was to reigning Olympic champion and current No. 3 China in the final match last Sunday.

The U.S. then swept No. 4 Turkey in a 3-0 rout in Thursday’s semifinal to meet Brazil in the final.

A $1 million prize comes with the victory.

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