By Joe Lacdan, U.S. Armed Forces SportsOctober 24, 2019
WUHAN, China -- Down two sets to none, the U.S. Armed Forces women's volleyball team faced the possibility of dropping a second contest to border rival Canada during the Military World Games Tuesday.
Already the U.S. had weathered through possibly the toughest pool, losing to both Brazil and China. If the U.S. women suffered another loss, they ran the risk of leaving Wuhan with only one victory against France.
However, behind a sharp offensive attack fueled by outside hitters Taelor Eyre, Akokwe-Felicia Clement and Abby Hall, the Americans rallied to win the last three sets and defeat Canada, 22-25, 24-26, 25-16, 25-22, and 15-10.
The win gave the U.S a fifth-place finish in the eight-team field. Brazil took the gold after defeating host China 3-1. China took silver and North Korea took bronze.
Middle blocker, Army Capt. Justine Stremick, struck the final blow against Canada, slamming the ball into a soft spot of the defense to take the final set. Setter and Air Force Capt. Hillary Keltner set up a high pass, allowing Stremick to use her 6-foot-3-inch frame to strike the ball past the Canadian defense.
"Hillary set it up. She adjusted really well," Stremick said. "I was able to see it and see the block and just kind of get cross on it and put the ball down onto the court."
Several U.S. athletes and other members of the U.S. delegation helped rally the volleyball players, cheering the team on from the stands. Eyre, an Air Force first lieutenant from Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, ended the fourth set with two straight kills. Clement (13 kills) helped lead the U.S. comeback with dazzling aerial spikes throughout the rally.
"I do believe there is momentum in the sport," said U.S. coach Jay VanVark, who previously served as head coach of the Myanmar national team and the Nichols State volleyball team in Thibodaux, Louisiana.
"All of them are very clutch," he said of the U.S. players. "The key for any elite team is to get them to all perform at the same time. I'm really happy today; against Canada we did what was required and we definitely stepped up."
VanVark admitted that fatigue may have plagued the U.S. players after a grueling schedule. The U.S. women began the tourney by losing decisively to the host Chinese, 25-10, 25-9 and 25-16. China had 49 kills to the Americans' 20. The U.S. then dropped a three-set defeat to Brazil before bouncing back to upend France on Monday, winning three sets to one, led by Clement's 12 kills.
During the Americans' loss to Canada in the team's previous matchup, Hall and Eyre struggled, each managing only six kills. That match also went the distance with the U.S. women losing 3-2 and falling in extra points 21-19 in the fifth set.
"The two of them both didn't have the greatest match," VanVark said. "We can kind of have one of them not have a great match. It's really hard when both of them don't. I think they wanted to prove themselves a little bit and they did a fantastic job of it tonight."
Hall led the U.S women (2-3) with a game-high 22 kills while Eyre added 12.
The Americans entered their matchup Tuesday with revenge on their minds, and the team effort assured the U.S. closed the world games on a positive note with two straight wins.
"Huge team effort," Stremick said. "I think a lot of us just came together on the court … playing our type of volleyball. Our hitters stepped up, figuring out how to adjust to what Canada was doing."