VOLLEYBALL Preview: U.S. women start 2019 Nations League with sweep of Belgium

American hitter Sarah Wilhite in action vs. Belgium

Last we saw the United States women’s national volleyball team, the celebration was on for a championship in the inaugural season of the FIVB Women’s Nationals League after defeating Turkey, 3-2, in the final. Outside hitter Michelle Bartsch-Hackley was named Most Valuable Player.

The Women’s Nations League is back for 2019, and includes 16 teams: 12 “core teams” and four which are “challenger teams.” The field, including current FIVB world rankings:

Americas ~ 3 teams:
Brazil (4), Dominican Republic (10), United States (3)

Asia ~ 4 teams:
China (2), Japan (6), Korea (9), Thailand (14)

Europe ~ 9 teams:
Belgium (19), Bulgaria (16), Germany (15), Italy (8), Netherlands (7), Poland (26), Russia (5), Serbia (1), Turkey (12).

The format includes five weeks of play in rotating pools of four, creating a 15-game schedule for each team:

Round 1: 21-23 May
Round 2: 28-30 May
Round 3: 4-6 June
Round 4: 11-13 June
Round 5: 18-20 June

The top five teams will advance to a final round in Nanjing (CHN) from 2-6 July.

For the U.S. women, play started on Tuesday in Ruse (BUL) with a 3-0 sweep of Belgium: 25-23, 25-8, 25-22. The U.S. was led in scoring by Andrea Drews with 19 points and Sarah Wilhite with 14.

The Women’s Nations League replaced a 25-year program called the World Grand Prix. Brazil had the most success with 12 titles, followed by the U.S. with six and Russia with three. The Americans and Brazilians have been dominant this decade: the U.S. won in 2010-11-12-15 and the new Nations League in 2018; Brazil won in 2013-14-16-17.

Look for 2019 Women’s Nations League results here.