Ali Frantti, Haleigh Washington Represent U.S. In VNL Quarterfinals

Penn State women’s volleyball alumnae Haleigh Washington and Ali Frantti made the United States’ 14-player roster for the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Nations League finals this week in Ankara, Turkey.

Frantti, Washington, and the U.S. (11-1) will play Serbia (8-4) in the quarterfinals Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. ET after finishing the preliminary three rounds with the best record of any team in the tournament.

The U.S., which is ranked No. 1 in the world, is aiming to capture its fourth straight VNL title after the event was introduced in 2018. There was no tournament in 2020 due to COVID-19.

Half the roster, including Washington, helped the U.S. win its first indoor women’s volleyball gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics following a sweep of Brazil in the finals last summer. Penn State alumna Micha Hancock was also a member of the team and played a key role when starting setter Jordyn Poulter was injured in a 3-2 win over Italy.

The Nittany Lions had the most representatives of any college program on the U.S. roster for this year’s VNL with five of the 25 players hailing from Penn State. Fourteen players were selected to compete each week in Shreveport, Louisiana; Quezon City, Phillipines; and Calgary, Canada.

Frantti and Kendall White, Penn State’s career digs leader with 1,994, played in the first week of matches and turned heads with their strong showings. Frantti had 15 points (13 kills and two blocks) in a sweep of the Dominican Republic to begin the tournament, while White had 17 digs and six successful receptions in a sweep of Canada in the next match.

Frantti continued her impressive first week of VNL action with 13 points (11 kills and two blocks) in a sweep of Brazil that was the first time these two teams had met since the Olympic finals. Frantti had two points on a kill and a block in the lone U.S. loss of the tournament so far, a 3-0 setback to Japan to wrap up week one.

Hancock, Washington, Frantti, and fellow Penn State alum Nia Reed were all invited to the Phillipines for the second week of competition. Washington had 10 points (match-high four aces, four kills, and two blocks) in a sweep of Bulgaria, while Hancock contributed a kill, a block, and an ace in the win.

Frantti was outstanding the following contest, a sweep of Poland, with a match-high 18 points (15 kills and three blocks) and seven successful receptions. Reed made her first start of the tournament in the same match and tallied 13 digs, 11 kills, and a block.

“It’s such an honor to be with these girls and this talent each day,” Frantti said after the Poland win. “It’s fun to get in the gym and work hard with them. We’re focusing on good serves, good first contacts, getting set on the block — focusing on those little things.”

Reed also provided her insight following the match: “I can honestly say, I was nervous. My legs felt like Jell-O. But they were good nerves. With different lineups every other week or even every other game, it’s hard to stay together, stay connected. But I think USAV does a really good job with their players on connection and communication.”

Washington had six kills, three blocks, and two aces in a sweep of China, then Frantti and Reed put together particularly efficient outings in a 3-1 win over Thailand to close out week two. Frantti dominated with 24 kills, 10 digs, two blocks, and an ace, while Reed added eight kills of her own off the bench.

Hancock and Washington traveled to Canada for the third week of preliminary matches and helped the U.S. bring home another 4-0 record to take over the lead in the standings from Japan, including sweeps of Belgium and Serbia. Washington had four kills, three blocks, and an ace against Serbia before following that up with 10 kills and an ace in a 3-2 win over Turkey. The U.S. beat Germany 3-1 in the final preliminary match despite a lackluster 13-25 third-set loss.

“Props to our team on playing a very strong VNL through all three weeks with different travel groups and starting lineups,” head coach Karch Kiraly said. “They did a nice job bringing out the best of each other and working to reset when things weren’t going so well. We’re really happy with how our team responded.”

Frantti is among four outside hitters on the U.S. VNL finals roster, joining Kathryn Plummer, Sarah Wilhite Parsons, and Kelsey Robinson. The U.S. is carrying four middle blockers, too, this week in Washington, Dana Rettke, Hannah Tapp, and Chiaka Ogbogu. It will be exciting to see how Frantti and Washington perform in the finals after playing especially well the last few weeks.

“We made a strong statement and qualified atop the season standings,” Kiraly said. “That won’t count for anything in finals week, so we look forward to starting fresh and going to Ankara against the best teams in the world.”