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Volleyball: US women's team secures Tokyo Olympics bid

BOSSIER CITY, La. (AP) -- The U.S. women's volleyball team secured its berth to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on Sunday, beating Argentina in straight sets Sunday at a Tokyo Women's Volleyball Qualification Tournament.

    Coach Karch Kiraly's third-ranked Americans went unbeaten in Pool C of qualifying this weekend, rallying from a set down and again from a 2-1 deficit Saturday night to beat 16th-ranked Bulgaria before a 25-22, 25-17, 25-13 victory over No. 11 Argentina.

    The U.S. has never won an Olympic gold medal, capturing bronze in the Rio Games three years ago. Now, the Americans have qualified a year out -- a different path than during the last Olympic cycle when they had to win a second qualifying event in January 2016 at Lincoln, Nebraska, after missing out with two losses at the 2015 World Cup in Japan as just the top two teams from that event secured bids then to Rio.

    "We can be really proud with how we fought through here, especially the challenge that Bulgaria through at us down two sets to one and the nice response we put together," Kiraly said. "This is huge for the program. Everybody knows that we are going to Tokyo. We got that ticket locked in. We worked really hard for that this year. That helps in the planning, and it makes it that much closer in the distance. It is not that much distance to Tokyo."

    This deep U.S. squad has some familiar Olympic veterans such as Jordan Larson, Kelsey Robinson and Kim Hill along with a mix of young players. The Americans beat No. 23 Kazakhstan in straight sets Friday.

    In addition, middle blocker Tori Dixon is back in a key role with the U.S. after she was forced to miss the 2016 Olympics with a left knee injury that required reconstructive ACL surgery. She won Sunday on her 27th birthday.

    "I am really glad with how we played, how we performed. It is a best birthday present ever, honestly," Dixon said. "Our outsides and Jordan Thompson did a great job. They came in and carried a big load all summer long, especially today."

    Opposite Jordan Thompson will return to the University of Cincinnati this fall having gained valuable national team experience. Thompson had a match-high 16 points with 13 kills, two aces and a block in Sunday's match, which was delayed by about 30 minutes by a power outage in the arena.

    "This experience is only going to help me going back to college, and adjusting back to the level of play in college," Thompson said.

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