United States Sweep Bulgaria at VNL

ARLINGTON, Texas, May 31, 2024. – After two days off from competition, the U.S. Women’s National Team returned to the court and won its third consecutive match in Volleyball Nations League preliminary play with a 3-0 (25-17, 25-22, 25-22) triumph over Bulgaria on Friday night.

The U.S. Women (4-2), ranked fourth in the latest FIVB world rankings, come back tomorrow to face first-place (7-0) and world’s third-ranked Poland at 2:30 p.m. PT/4:30 p.m. CT. Poland has dropped just one set in this year’s VNL and defeated the U.S. in last year’s VNL bronze medal match. Bulgaria, which broke a four-match losing streak with a 3-2 win over Korea on Wednesday, fell to 1-5.

Outside hitter and Texas native Avery Skinner had a tremendous match in her home state, leading all players with 17 kills and 19 points, adding 10 digs and a team-high four successful receptions.

Outside hitter Ali Frantti, who was one of three U.S. players to total 10 points, is embracing her veteran status. “I want to help the new women out. It feels weird to be older, but I am trying to take on more of a leadership role and I am excited for it,” said Frantti, who was playing with former Penn State teammates Micha Hancock and Haleigh Washington. “In the second set, I was looking at the lineup and thinking this was six, seven, eight years ago we were doing this. It has been great to play with Micah and Haleigh for all these years. It’s really a special moment for us.”

Middle blocker Washington finished with 10 points, hitting .615 with nine kills and one error in 13 total attacks, while setter Hancock led the team with three blocks, scored seven points, totaled 10 digs, and ran the offense that hit .453 with a 20-kill advantage, 51-31.

Though she usually plays outside hitter, Khalia Lanier made her debut at opposite for the U.S. Women and finished with 10 points on 10 kills while scoring the winning point in each of the final two sets.

“Khalia did a really nice job in a position she doesn’t play very much,” U.S. Head Coach Karch Kiraly said. “Credit to (setter) Micha Hancock for having confidence in Khalia to get that kill to finish out the second set and the third.”

“I’m happy to get an opportunity, wherever it is,” Lanier said. “I think I started with two errors. I definitely had to work out some kinks. But it feels good to be on the court, no matter what position, in a USA jersey.”

Libero Morgan Hentz was one of three U.S. players with double-digit digs, leading all players with 11. Middle Asjia O’Neal finished with seven points on five kills and joining Skinner and Frantti with two blocks.

With the U.S. using its sixth different lineup in as many matches, Kiraly was encouraged by what he saw through two sets. “We haven’t been together that long and it’s not that easy. It’s the same for all the teams in VNL. You have to get it together quickly and see if we can run a really smooth offense. So far, we’ve seen some really nice glimpses,” he said.

Asked what he would deem a success apart from winning, Kiraly stated, “One thing is always that we look the same no matter whether we won the point or lost the point. No matter how great or how poor we were, we flush that and bring a really good version of ourselves to the next point.”