Turkiye’s Melissa Vargas goes over Ali Frantti and Dana Rettke during the 2023 VNL/Volleyball World photo @shotbygomez

The USA women’s quest to repeat as Olympic champions begins with the first leg of Volleyball Nations League.

After a brief time together in the gym in Anaheim, the American contingent headed to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for four matches. The first is Wednesday against Thailand.

VNL rosters can include up to 14 players. For the Olympics in Paris, teams can have 12 players plus one official alternate. The USA teams will differ for each of the first three legs.

The setters are Jordyn Poulter and Lauren Carlini; the liberos are Justine Wong-Orantes and Zoe Fleck; the outsides are Jordan Larson, Sarah Parsons, sisters Avery and Madi Skinner, and Ali Frantti; the middles are Kayla Haneline, Brionne Butler, Asjia O’Neal and Chiaka Ogbogu; and the only opposite is Danielle Cuttino.

Poulter, Wong-Orantes, Larson and Ogbogu were on the team that won gold in Tokyo in 2021. Other Olympians in the USA gym but not on this roster include setter Micha Hancock, middle Haleigh Washington, outside Kelsey Cook and opposites Annie Drews and Jordan Thompson.

Of note: Poulter will compete for the first time since complete knee reconstruction; Larson, most outstanding player in Tokyo, did not play this season and alternated between her role as an assistant coach at Nebraska and training in Anaheim; O’Neal, Fleck and Madi Skinner were teammates on the Texas team that won the 2022 NCAA title; and the Skinners represent the first sisters on a USA team at this level in quite a while.

The tournament begins Tuesday with four matches, Bulgaria vs. Netherlands and Italy vs. Poland in Antalya, Türkiye, and China vs. Korea and Brazil vs. Canada in Rio. Here is the USA VNL schedule with all time Eastern. All matches can be see on Volleyball World TV:

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Wednesday, May 15: vs. Thailand, 4:30 p.m.
Thursday, May 16: vs. China, 4:30 p.m.
Friday, May 17: vs. Brazil, 8 p.m.
Sunday, May 19: vs. Dominican Republic, 1 p.m.

Arlington, Texas
Wednesday, May 28: vs. Canada, 8:30 p.m.
Friday, May 31: vs. Bulgaria, 9 p.m.
Saturday, June 1: vs. Poland, 5:30 p.m.
Sunday, June 2: vs. Türkiye, 4 p.m.

Fukuoka, Japan
Monday, June 10: vs. France, 2:30 a.m. Tuesday
Wednesday, June 12: vs. Netherlands, 11 p.m.
Friday, June 14: vs. Italy, 2:30 a.m. Wednesday
Sunday, June 16: vs. Japan, 5:45 a.m.

The final round is June 20-23 in Bangkok, Thailand.

Here is a look at the USA first-round opponents with additional analysis on the rest of the field.


Thailand enters 2024 after a lackluster 2023 in which it finished fifth in its Olympicqualification pool and 14th in the VNL. As the host for the finals, Thailand hopes to rediscover the magic it had in 2022 when it came close to defeating the USA in the World Championships. 

Chatchu-on Moksri and Pimpichaya Kokram, Thailand’s main offensive weapons, spent the past year in Japan. LOVB signee Piyanut Pannoy should be the starting libero.


China will be boosted by some key returnees, including outside hitters Zhu Ting and Zhang Changning, Tokyo Olympians and Rio gold medalists. Li Yingying, one of the best outside hitters in the world, who has carried the Chinese offense in the past two seasons. 

China made the VNL final last year for the first time, falling to Türkiye. 

China’s offense will most likely be directed by setter Diao Linyu, but Rio gold medalist Ding Xia will also be in the conversation. Yuan Xinyue and Wang Yuanyuan are formidable middles. China has beaten the USA in three of their last five matches, including in five sets last year in VNL.


Brazil and the USA have formed the premier rivalry in volleyball, one that has decided three of the past four Olympic champions. 

Brazil is led by one of the best outsides in the world, Gabi. Ana Cristina will look to make her mark on the national team level after missing last season with an injury. Ana Cristina has helped her club team, Fenerbahce, win the past two Turkish league titles. Julia Bergmann, the former Georgia Tech great, will also fight for a spot. Brazil’s deepest position is at middle blocker, where the legendary Thaisa returned to the national team last summer and is poised for one last Olympic run. She will be paired with Carol, one of the best blockers in the world, or perhaps youngsters Julia Kudiess or Diana. There will be competition for the opposite and libero positions.

Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic ended last summer as one of the better teams in the world, beating the USA to claim the NORCECA championship and then went into Olympic qualifying and defeated both Serbia and China to earn their Olympic bid. At their best, the ‘Queens of the Caribbean’ can compete with any team in the world. 

Outside hitter Brayelin Martinez, middle blocker Jineiry Martinez and libero Brenda Castillo are some of the best players in the world at their positions. Opposite Gaila Gonzalez and middle blocker Geraldine Gonzales have been excellent. Niverka Marte has led the Dominican offense for years. Setter Ariana Rodriguez (who played at Miami), will look to make her mark after redshirting this past NCAA season to participate in Olympic qualifying. 

VNL title contenders

Türkiye won its first VNL crown last summer and is the favorite. It’s only VNL loss in 2023 was to the USA.

Cuban-born naturalized opposite Melissa Vargas is a superstar, but Türkiye has question marks at setter with Cansu Özbay and Elif Şahin coming off poor club seasons. Middles Zehra Güneş and Eda Erdem were injured during their club seasons.

Italy will be back after a year of turmoil. Paola Egonu and Monica De Gennaro were left off the VNL team. Coach Davide Mazzanti was sacked as a result and replaced by Julio Velasco. Egonu and De Gennaro are back as Italy hopes to qualify for the Olympics. Ekaterina Antropova was the main antagonist in the Italian league finals to De Gennaro’s Conegliano and will look to make her mark or even replace Egonu in the starting lineup.

Poland earned its first VNL medal last summer after defeating the USA in the bronze-medal match. Joanna Wolosz is one of the best setters in the world. Opposite Magdalena Stysiak and middle Agnieszka Korneluk are among the best.Outsides Olivia Różański, Martyna Łukasik and Martyna Czyrniańska had up-and-down club seasons.

Still hoping to get in

Japan should qualify for the Olympics in VNL. Outside Sarina Koga has been Japan’s best player since missing most of the Tokyo Olympics with an injury. She will be complemented on the outside by Mayu Ishikawa, who spent the past club season in Italy specifically to adjust her game against bigger blocks. LOVB signee Manami Kojima will look to make her mark at libero after not being coach Manabe’s preferred option previously. Minnesota alum Airi Miyabe has shifted to middle. Setter Nanami Seki will be tested for the spot by LOVB signee Tamaki Matsui.

The Netherlands, Canada and Germany are all closely ranked in the FIVB rankings and will vie for the remaining Olympics spot. The Netherlands has the most points but has not experienced much success in the VNL. Middles form the strongest group, led by Eline Timmerman, Indy Baijens and Juliet Lohuis. LOVB signee Laura Dijkema will compete with Sarah Van Aalen and Britt Bongaerts for a setting spot.

Canada is looking to qualify for the Olympics for the first time since 1996 and will likely need an upset win or two along the way to make it. Canada narrowly missed both Olympic qualification and a bid to the VNL finals last summer. Outside Alexa Gray (who played at BYU) and opposite Kiera Van Ryk will be Canada’s main offensive weapons. Hawaii’s Emily Maglio and Michigan State’s Jaz White are the middles. Brie O’Reilly will be Canada’s setter. Andrea Mitrovic (Arizona State) will compete with Hilary Howe-Johnson for the second outside hitter position, which has seen the most inconsistency for Canada. Shannon Winzer returns as head coach, remaining the only woman head coach in the VNL.

Germany will need some upsets and find stabilization after losing their head coach, Vital Heynen, this past spring. Longtime German league coach Alexander Waibl has filled in. Germany will be without its best player, Hanna Orthmann, still recovering from an injury. The outside hitter duo of Lina Alsmeier and Lena Stigrot will need to step up. LOVB signee Anna Pogany will be the starting libero, supported by fellow LOVB signee Annie Cesar.


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