ANTALYA, Türkiye, May 31, 2023.- The Olympic champion opposite had help from newcomers Skinner and Lanier as the Americans defeated the world champions in Antalya, Türkiye.
Helped by a pair of talented new faces, Annie Drews shone the brightest in the duel between the reigning Olympic champions and the defending world champions on the second day of the Volleyball Nations League 2023 and led the United States to a big win over Serbia in Antalya, Türkiye, on Wednesday.
The Pool 1 encounter held at the Antalya Sports Hall ended with a five-set (25-20, 19-25, 21-25, 25-21, 15-12) victory for the Americans, who started their push to return to the top of the podium in the VNL with a strong result – they won gold in 2018, 2019 and 2021 before finishing fifth in 2022.
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One of three Olympic champions selected by head coach Karch Kiraly to lead a young roster in the opening week of the VNL in Antalya, Drews embraced the responsibility and tallied a match-high 25 points in the American win – the 29-year-old opposite had 22 kills, two aces and one block in the duel with the Serbians.
The Americans had several other individual standouts in their big victory over Serbia and among them were 24-year-old rookie outside hitters Avery Skinner and Khalia Lanier, who delivered 19 and 16 points respectively in their first VNL match.
“I think that for us it was just about focusing on our side,” Skinner commented. “We couldn’t control what Serbia was doing and they were playing an amazing match. We just realized what we could do and fought together. We had a lot of players coming in and making so much of a difference. This is really important and will carry us far. Everyone came in very confident and did what they had to do to help us. I think Khalia and I, with this being our first VNL match, we just tried to play with no pressure. We had nothing to lose, so we played really free and that helped us.”
Other key contributors to the American victory were middle blocker Brionne Butler, who dominated the net with eight blocks to go with five kills, setter and captain Micha Hancock, who besides running the team’s offense also scored three points, and libero Justine Wong-Orantes, who did a solid job on the backcourt.
Blocking was a major difference between the teams as the Americans produced 13 stops to eight from the Europeans. The Olympic champions were also better offensively (67 to 61 kills), but the Serbians were slightly more productive from the service line (six aces to five) and got more points from opponent errors (27 to 20).
Serbian captain Ana Bjelica led her team’s offense, producing 19 points with 17 kills and two aces. Outside hitters Bianka Busa (15) and Sara Lozo (12) and middle blocker Maja Aleksic (13) also scored in double digits in the first match of the world champions under the guidance of Italian head coach Giovanni Guidetti.
Serbia had won the three most recent encounters with the Americans, having knocked the Olympic champions out of the VNL 2022 in the quarterfinals and ending their 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship run in the semifinals.
The world and the Olympic champions will both have difficult challenges in their second matches in Antalya with Serbia getting back on the court on Thursday, at 20:00 local time (17:00 UTC), to face Türkiye, and the USA playing again on Friday, at the same time, against reigning VNL champions Italy.