U.S. women's volleyball squeaks by Italy to remain undefeated - WSMV News 4

U.S. women's volleyball squeaks by Italy to remain undefeated

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As possibly the greatest volleyball player in U.S. history, Karch Kiraly has a different perspective on the game than most coaches.

It's that perspective that is giving his team a leg up at the Rio Olympics right now.

Looking at the schedule, it would have been easy to assume the U.S. women's volleyball team would coast to a victory over italy Friday afternoon.

After all, Italy hadn't won a set in the first three matches in the preliminary round and Team USA had looked dominant.

But Italy refused to follow that script.

The Americans wound up beating Italy in four sets (25-22, 25-22, 23-25, 25-20), but the battle was a lot closer than most expected.

At every Italian counter, Kiraly helped remind his team - the top-ranked women's squad in the world - that this test was actually a good thing.

"I love that we're getting challenged here; we get a chance to respond," Kiraly was seen telling his team during one timeout in the fourth set.

"This is actually the battle we want to be in," Kiraly said during another stoppage in play.

The legendary volleyball icon knew his team would not be immune to adversity throughout the Rio tournament.

Friday's match wasn't about a win or a loss to Italy. It was more than just seeding in Pool B. 

The U.S. women's volleyball team has one objective in Rio: Gold.

And Kiraly - who has three gold medals in his trophy cabinet from his time as a player - sees the big picture, despite his dominant squad struggling to put away a team that has already been eliminated from quarterfinals play.

The U.S. team had trouble with 17-year-old Italian star Paola Egonu all day, as the 6-foot-3 phenom tallied 20 points and three blocks, blitzing the Americans with monster spikes and creative volleys tapped to the perfect spot on the court.

Every time USA looked like they were going to pull away, Egonu and the Italians responded, battling to the bitter end in all four sets.

Italy put the Americans on the defense throughout the entire third set, taking control and forcing the top-ranked squad against the ropes. The only reason the final score of the set was close was because of a gritty defensive effort from the U.S., which tallied 12 digs in the set.

U.S. libero Kayla Banwarth was at the forefront of the defense with a match-high 10 digs.

The long battle forced Kiraly to dig deep into his well, utilizing nearly every player on the roster.

Kelsey Robinson, Karsta Lowe and Courtney Thompson haven't played a ton in Rio, but all three provided a boost down the stretch, coming up with key plays in the deciding fourth set.

"I take a lot of pride in being able to be a spark plug and energy-maker," Robinson said, according to TeamUSA.org. "Me and Karsta and everyone in the box, we all have the built up energy and ready to go."

The Americans ended with 19 service faults, handing Italy 30 points on errors alone throughout the four sets.

They also converted on 66 of their 151 spikes while limiting Italy to just 44 points on 127 spikes.

The U.S. women lead Pool B with 11 points after four matches, winning 12 of the 16 sets they've played in Rio.

The next match for Team USA comes Sunday at 4:05 p.m. ET against No. 3-ranked China, which is having a rough go of it at the Olympics.

That will be the final prelim match before quarterfinals action tips off Tuesday, Aug. 16.

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