Members of the U.S. men's volleyball team celebrate during a match at the FIVB World Championship on Sept. 18, 2018 in Bari, Italy.
The No. 2-ranked U.S. men’s volleyball team finished pool play undefeated at 5-0 at the FIVB World Championship after sweeping Tunisia 25-12, 25-18, 25-13 on Tuesday in Bari, Italy.
Outside hitter Taylor Sander led the way with 13 points as Team USA completed its second three-set sweep of the tournament and kept its stranglehold on the top spot in the pool. The next round begins on Friday, with the tournament in Italy and Bulgaria continuing through Sept. 30.
The Americans opened the tournament with two hard-fought, five-set victories.
In the tournament’s opening match on Wednesday, Team USA came back from a 1-2 deficit to defeat Serbia 15-25, 25-14, 21-25, 25-20, 15-10, with opposite Matt Anderson and outside hitter Aaron Russell each scoring 19 points. The Americans followed that by beating No. 16 Australia on Thursday. Anderson had 20 points on 18 kills and two aces in the match, which ended 25-21, 25-20, 22-25, 23-25, 15-10.
Team USA met its biggest pool play test against fourth-ranked Russia on Saturday. Though the Russians are coming off winning gold at the inaugural FIVB Volleyball Nations League tournament in June, the U.S. won this one in four sets, 25-23, 20-25, 25-23, 25-20, to get the full three points and move into first place in the pool.
Russell led the team with 17 points and 16 kills, while Anderson scored 16 points and Sander added 13 points.
“We didn’t come in with any expectations, especially not to win in four and get three points,” U.S. setter Micah Christenson told USA Volleyball. “We knew Russia, the defending VNL champions, they’re on top of the volleyball world right now internationally. They had a target on their backs from all the teams.”
The team had a much easier time against Cameroon the next morning, getting its first sweep of the tournament in a 25-18, 25-20, 25-14 victory. Anderson and Sander led with nine points each. Anderson added a team-high eight kills, and Taylor Averill led the team in aces with four.
The top four teams from each pool now advance to the second round featuring four pools of four teams. From there, six will move on to the third round and play in a round robin to determine semifinalists and finalists.
Team USA is the only team to finish 5-0 so far, although both Italy and Poland are 4-0 with one match left to play.
The world championships features 24 teams competing over three weeks. The U.S. won the world title in 1986 and finished third in 1994. At the last world championships in 2014, the U.S. finished seventh.
The U.S. came into the tournament with a 13-6 record this season and finished third at the Volleyball Nations League.
Eight of the team members were part of the bronze-medal team from the Olympic Games Rio 2016, including two-time Olympians Anderson and David Smith.