By Karen Price | June 04, 2017, 2:17 p.m. (ET)
Taylor Sander spikes against the Italy defense during a men's volleyball semifinal match at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 on Aug. 19, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

 

The U.S. men’s volleyball team dropped its first three matches of pool play in the FIVB World League this weekend in Novi Sad, Serbia.

The U.S. squad, which won the bronze medal at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, is ranked second in the world but is also playing without a number of prominent veterans including Aaron Russell, who is out with an injury; opposite Murphy Troy, who retired; four-time Olympian Reid Priddy, who is playing beach volleyball; and three-time Olympian David Lee, who is taking the season off. Just six of the players who competed in Rio were on the roster for this weekend’s games.

Team USA opened pool play with a 3-1 (25-18, 23-25, 25-20, 25-21) loss to Serbia on Friday night. Coach John Speraw called it an issue with communication rather than experience, however, as Serbia dominated in aces (11-3), with the U.S. players struggling with serve reception, and led in kills, 50-44. Outside hitter and 2016 Olympian Taylor Sander led the Americans with 18 points, and T.J. DeFalco, the youngest member of the team and a 2014 Youth Olympian in beach volleyball, had eight points.

In the second game of the weekend, Canada, which moved to Group 1 this year after winning Group 2 last summer, stunned the Americans with a 3-2 (23-25, 25-19, 18-25, 25-23, 15-11) victory on Saturday. Canada also upset Team USA in the first game of the Olympics last summer.

Then on Sunday, the Americans fell to Belgium, 3-1 (23-25, 16-25, 25-22, 26-28). Ben Patch, who made his World League debut on Friday as a substitute in the third set, had a match-high 21 points.

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Next the U.S. squad heads to Pau, France, where it will face Italy, Russia and France beginning on Friday. The Americans finish in Poland playing Iran, Russia and Poland beginning on June 15. The top five finishers in Group 1, plus hosts Brazil, will play in the World League Final Round in Curitiba, Brazil, beginning July 4. The United States has won the World League twice, in 2008 and 2014.

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.