Nine months ago in the Stan Sheriff Center, UCLA senior Karsta Lowe dominated the Outrigger Resorts Volleyball Challenge, putting down 55 kills in three matches en route to the Most Outstanding Player award.
The only thing that has changed for Lowe since then is the uniform. The 6-foot-4 left-handed opposite was very impressive in her international debut when helping Team USA to a 25-22, 25-15, 25-22 sweep of No. 3 China in front of an estimated 3,500. Lowe had a match-high 14 kills as the top-ranked Americans ran their USA Volleyball Cup record to 8-0 after 73 minutes.
"I feel very at home here," said Lowe, who had played four matches at the Sheriff Center during her collegiate career. "It was different this time for me with crowd cheering for us. The other times (with UCLA), it got silent in here when we’d score a point.
"It was so unreal for me. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I looked around and thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m playing with Olympians. I don’t belong here.’ It’s not like you’re beating a college. You just beat a country."
The Americans did it in pretty convincing fashion, with a very quick attack and deceptive serving (9 aces) that kept the young Chinese team off balance most of the match.
"We couldn’t pass their serves and it’s hard to play when you can’t do that," China coach Jenny Lang Ping said. "We couldn’t catch their speed (on attack).
"We have a lot of young players who are new to this level and are still learning, focusing on our side. We try again tomorrow."
The two teams conclude their Honolulu leg with Saturday’s 7 p.m. rematch. The Cup moves to California with a match at UC Irvine Tuesday and at Cal State San Bernardino next Friday.
Although U.S. Coach Karch Kiraly was pleased overall with the success of his lineup, he expects to change things up for Saturday.
"The best thing about tonight was the performance by our younger players, Karsta Lowe and (setter) Molly Kreklow," Kiraly said. "We were able to play at the speed we wanted, what we call ‘USA Fast.’ And our serving was quite effective and got China in serious trouble.
"We’ll continue to use this as a learning experience and, as we did last year, we’ll continue to look at different lineups each match."
Former Pepperdine All-American hitter Kim Hill added 13 kills and former Stanford All-American middle Foluke Akinradewo added 10 kills and three aces.
Changning Zhang led China with 10 kills, an ace and was in on one of China’s eight blocks.
The Americans used tough serving to jump out to large leads early in Sets 2 and 3. Unlike Set 2, where the U.S. cruised after leading by as much as 18-9, China made things interesting late in Set 3.
Down 5-0 and 20-10, Ni Yan’s kill sparked a 10-2 run that closed the gap to 22-20. A service error by Fangsu Yang following a U.S. timeout gave the Americans some breathing room.
Lowe’s 13th kill gave the U.S. its first match point at 24-21 and, one sideout later, she put down aloha ball when flying in from the right on a cross-court shot.
Former Wahine All-American and 1976 U.S. national team captain Beth McLachlin (1974-75, ’77) will be presented with USA Volleyball’s Merton H. Kennedy/Elmer L. Johnson Heritage Award during a ceremony during Saturday’s match. The award recognizes individuals and organizations for their significant contribution to the planning, collection, storage, retrieving and management of volleyball archives.