When the Netherlands won the first set against Italy in the teams’ week 4 matchup on Wednesday in Rotterdam, the Americans would have just been sitting down for dinner in Jiangmen, China. In spite of being off the court, that early result clinched the United States’ spot in the Final 6 of the first-ever edition of the FIVB Women’s Volleyball Nations League: the first team to officially do so.
After the Americans nabbed an 9th-straight win on Wednesday morning with a 3-1 win over Brazil, the final nail was almost inevitable. Italy dropping a single set in any of their 5 remaining matches meant that the best Italy, currently ranked 8th in the tournament, could do would be tie the United States in wins and points, but they couldn’t match the U.S. in the 3rd tie-breaker: sets ratio.
The Italians, depending on the outcome of their match with the Netherlands (which looks to be headed for a tie-breaking 5th set), are still alive for the Final 6 – but the point is that now only 5 other teams have enough games left to mathematically surpass the U.S. in the standings, which means that the U.S. can finish no lower than 6th (with hosts and automatic qualifiers China being one of the 5 teams still capable of catching the U.S.). Russia, who at present is ahead of Italy in the standings with a 6-5 record, doesn’t have enough points available to them to knock the Americans out, as they’d need 14 points in 4 remaining matches.
The United States stumbled in week 1, but have caught fire since, including a record 8-straight sweeps. They finish up week 4 on Thursday against China and next week head to Argentina to play Serbia, South Korea, and winless Argentina.
With a pair of teams, Serbia and Brazil, just behind the U.S. at 9-2 records, the Americans right now would need 3 wins in their last 4 to clinch first place in the table (good for the 2nd seed in the Final 6 behind hosts China).The U.S. plays Serbia in week 5 – who don’t know right now whether or not they’ll have the services of their star Brankica Mihaljovic, who isn’t playing this week as a result of injury.
Serbia and Brazil could both clinch on Thursday as well with wins over the Netherlands and Russia, respectively; Turkey and the Dutch would both need help in the form of losses from Russia, Italy, Japan, and SOuth Korea to clinch this week.