Kobe, Japan, September 29, 2018 - The United States began their defence of the Women's World Championship with a hard-fought 3-0 victory over a powerful Azerbaijan team in Pool C at Kobe Green Arena on Saturday. The Americans saved five set points in the opening frame before going on to win 3-0 with scores of 29-27, 25-21, 25-21 in a hugely entertaining game.
It was a great team effort by the USA, who had 12 points from Kimberly Hill and 11 each from Jordan Larson and Kelly Murphy. Azerbaijan had the game's top scorer, however, in Polina Rahimova, whose 23 points included 17 vicious spikes and four jump-serve aces.
The match began at a breathless pace and thoroughly entertained the crowd as the two teams traded huge spikes and powerful blocks. The furious attacks and booming jump serves of Polina Rahimova had the spectators gasping in awe and the Americans drawing on all their character and team work to stay close with some desperate defence.
The left-handed duo of Karsta Lowe and Kelly Murphy, attacking from the right, and captain Jordan Larson kept the Americans ticking over.
In a tense end to the 32-minute first set, Azerbaijan missed five set points, including three in a row when leading 24-21, before the USA won it on their second set point with a Tetori Dixon block for 29-27.
Jana Kulan joined Rahimova in the spike fest, but the complexion of the game seemed to have changed as the Americans began to show more consistency, with Kimberly Hill very influential as the set progressed.
When Hill blocked Rahimova, the Americans were on the ascendancy at 17-12 and went on to take the second set 25-21 on their second set point with a crisp winner from middle blocker Foluke Akinradewo.
The third set began at a relentless pace, just like the opener, and the Azerbaijanis continued to entertain the crowd with some big spikes and blocks, notably from Aynur Imanova.
There was nothing in it at 16-16 but the USA's Murphy seemed able to score at will from the right and victory came at 25-21 at the first time of asking with Akinradewo again the finisher.