Prior to Monday's Pool B finale at Ariake Arena, site of the women's volleyball tournament at the Tokyo Olympics, Italy's women seemed to have Team USA's number. Sure, the U.S. won a friendly earlier this year, but the Italians had been winning the biggies.
Yet none of those matches carried the weight of Monday's, in which the top two teams in Pool B squared off for pool bragging rights heading into the quarterfinals.
Italy stepped right up with a first-set victory, and after dropping the second set the Italians won the third in extras (27-25) to put the U.S. on its heels.
Proud bronze medalists at Rio 2016, the U.S. rode spectacular efforts from every corner of the court to even things back up before taking the fifth set, 15-12, to close out pool play at 4-1 while Italy fell to 3-2.
The Americans, who lost setter Jordyn Poulter to an ankle injury during the match and had to see her taken off in a wheelchair, were led by Annie Drews, Jordan Larson and Michelle Bartsch-Hackley.
Poulter's injury came two days after U.S. star Jordan Thompson suffered a similar fate against the Russian Olympic Committee. Thompson watched the Italy match from the stands.