Italy (ITA) vs. USA (USA) women - Pool F / 1st -8th #6555340

Five American players - outside hitters Abigail Vander Wal and Emerson Sellman, opposite Abigail Mullen, setter Flynn Campbell and libero Ava Falduto - who earlier this month claimed the 2023 FIVB Volleyball Girls’ U19 World Championship title in Osijek, Croatia are now part of the United States team who are competing at the 2023 FIVB Volleyball Women’s U21 World Championship in the Mexican cities of León and Aguascalientes.

“I am beyond grateful for USA Volleyball and the opportunity to be a part of both teams, it feels amazing, but it has been really challenging to adjust to the higher level of play that the U21 teams have,” reflects Vander Wal.

The tournament is streamed live on the Volleyball World YouTube channel.

The United States, based in Aguascalientes, pulled out of the preliminary round as the second-placed team in Pool D and advanced to the second round, where they lost their chance to make it into the semifinals after suffering losses to Italy and Brazil in Pool F.

“The size of the block and the high level of defense make you work harder during the entire point and then get to celebrate or regroup after. It has been really challenging for me, but it’s also been an opportunity to improve my game,” adds Vander Wal.

The 16-year-old Vander Wal was a substitute in all three sets of the United States’ first match against Cuba, and a starter in the next four matches (Türkiye and the Netherlands in the first round, and Italy and Brazil in the second round).

2023 FIVB Volleyball Women’s U21 World Championship: Match Schedule and Results

Brazil (BRA) vs. USA (USA) women - Pool F / 1st -8th #6567582

USA's Abigail Vander Wal spikes against Brazilian Helena Wenk block

The Americans finished the second round in third place in Pool E and will be traveling to León to start the playoffs for positions 5th to 8th on Friday against Mexico.

Opposite Abigail Mullen also spoke with Volleyball World: “Not many girls can say that they’ve done this, so I know we are grateful for the opportunities USA Volleyball has offered us. Our group is younger than most at the U21 level.”

Mullen has been a starter in every match and explains: “One difference is that these athletes can jump higher and hit the ball really hard. It’s a whole new level of trying to really put the focus on getting our opponents out of system and winning points in transition.”

USA (USA) vs. Türkiye (TUR) women - Pool D #6508404

Abigail Mullen of the United States over Türkiye's double block

The 16-year-old also expressed that the main challenge her team has faced is adjusting to the level of play of the older teams.

“Along with that, switching from the mindset that not every point will be first ball kill, and that international volleyball is really about intense rallies, as the tournament has gone along, I feel like we’ve gotten a lot better at being prepared for those long rallies.”

Ava Falduto, the 17-year-old libero, says the U21 World Championship has been played at a faster pace than the U19" “In addition to the fact that these girls are a lot older, they also play a different style of volleyball and I think it’s definitely been an adjustment to the speed and physicality of our opponents here.”

USA (USA) vs. Türkiye (TUR) women - Pool D #6508622

Libero Ava Falduto celebrates with her teamates against Türkiye in the first round

Falduto spiega meglio il suo ingresso in una nuova squadra: "Abbiamo dovuto unire le forze come squadra molto velocemente e fare rapidamente degli aggiustamenti per poter competere con queste squadre forti. Giocare con un nuovo gruppo di ragazze che si erano allenate insieme prima di questo torneo è stato probabilmente il compito più difficile".

Quando tutte e tre torneranno a casa, continueranno ad affrontare nuove sfide per iniziare una nuova fase della loro vita. Vander Wal frequenterà l'Università del Texas, Falduto la Penn State University e Mullen le visite ufficiali al college prima di prendere una decisione.

Quick links:
FIVB Volleyball Women's U21 World Championship
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