By Robert Weinstock
SOFIA, Bulgaria — For the first time since 1981, the United States is going home without a medal in women’s indoor volleyball after losing to Russia, 3-1, in the third-place match Saturday in Arena Armeec.
Russia, avenging its loss to the U.S. in pool play eight days ago, took the bronze medal by relentlessly attacking, using a variety of hits, aiming at holes in the USA’s floor coverage and selecting vulnerable or off-balance targets for a win in four sets, 25-23, 19-25, 21-25, 22-25.
“We gave too many free balls to Russia and were not able to execute the first-ball kill in serve receiving,” coach Lynn Ray Boren said.
The first set started innocuously enough, with the teams tied in the early going, 9-9. Russia ran off four straight points, the U.S. fought back to a 15-15 tie, and Russia picked up three points on a passing error and two missed hits.
Kelly Kyle notched a kill, with Russia’s return attempt nearly going into the seats. Kristina Burke, Katelyn Reese, and Ludmila Mounty-Weinstock combined for a series of kills, and Reese had one of her five block solos to tie the set at 21-all. With the score 22-all, Kate Fetzer served up a point and then committed a service error. Ann Whited’s crosscourt kill gave the U.S. the first set, 25-23.
In the second set, Russia raced to an 11-5 lead and stretched it to 16-8 by the second technical timeout. Whited had two kills in the final moments, but Russia persevered for a 25-18 win to tie the match.
Kyle and Mounty-Weinstock came out swinging in the third set, and the U.S. took a 9-6 lead. Russia intensified its attack, and even though the Americans fought back to hold on to a 16-15 lead, the Russians retook it and stayed ahead the rest of the way – helped by two officials’ questionable calls on double-contact and four-hit calls, and a third on penetration, that had Boren jumping on the sideline in fury.
The final set was more of the same, with two more calls that went against the Americans. Jessica Israel, Kyle, and Reese each had four kills in the final set, and Whited had three. However, Kyle sent three boomers out of bounds, and a Russian barrage of well-placed hits and a plethora of block errors completely undid the U.S.
The team as a whole had 56 kills in 171 touches, their highest kill total in eight matches. Kyle had 18 kills; Burke, 10; Mounty-Weinstock and Reese, eight apiece; Israel, six; and Whited had five. Pia Marie Paulone had 30 assists, while Sarah Tubert added 19.
The Americans served aggressively, but the Russians were able to return consistently and there was no service run of more than three points at a time. Kyle had two of the team’s four service aces.
On defense, Burke had 14 digs; Kyle, 13; and Payton Brown, nine. Russia effectively neutralized the U.S.’s blocking game – while Reese had five block solos and Kyle two, there were 19 block errors, including five each by the usually dependable front duo of Mounty-Weinstock and Israel.
The loss to Russia ended an American medal streak in women’s volleyball that began with silver in 1981 in Cologne, Germany, and along the way amassed a total of two golds, four silvers and two bronzes.
“We will be ready for 2017,” a determined Ludmila Mounty-Weinstock said.
Other members of the team were seen vowing they would be back for the 2017 Summer Deaflympics in Ankara, Turkey, to reestablish the U.S.’s preeminence.
Later in the day, Japan and Ukraine met in the final, and Ukraine took home the gold with a 3-0 victory.