The U.S. men’s volleyball team wasn’t successful in defending its historic 2015 World Cup title, but will still take home some hardware from this year’s tournament in the form of a bronze medal.
It is only the country’s fourth medal in the event’s 54-year history.
Team USA, which includes seven players who won bronze at the Olympic Games Rio in 2016, went into Tuesday’s tournament finale knowing that a win against 2-7 Egypt would assure them of at least a bronze medal, and possibly the silver medal if Poland was to lose to Iran.
Team USA held up its end of the bargain, rebounding from an opening-set loss to down Egypt 22-25, 25-16, 25-14, 25-13. After nine scoring errors in the first set, the U.S. tightened it up the rest of the way. Mitch Stahl nailed three aces in a row in the second set and the U.S. had six in total in the set. The great serving continued as Team USA kept Egypt at arm’s length the rest of the match. Two-time Olympian Matt Anderson led with 17 points.
The U.S. then had to wait out the result of the Poland-Iran match hoping to be boosted to silver medal territory. But Poland swept Iran, meaning a bronze medal for Team USA. The U.S. concludes the tournament, which started in Fukuoka, Japan, for five games before moving to Hiroshima for the final six, with a 9-2 record.
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After going 4-1 in the first five games of the tournament, the U.S. opened the second half with a four-set win over Iran, 25-18, 22-25, 25-18, 25-12, on Wednesday in Hiroshima.
With a big advantage in kills, blocks and aces, the U.S. dropped only the second set thanks in part to its own errors. Outside hitter Aaron Russell led the team in scoring with 18 points on 15 kills, two blocks and one ace, opposite Anderson had 12 kills, one block and two aces and middle blocker Max Holt had 11 points on eight kills, one block and two aces.
Next up was undefeated and eventual tournament champion Brazil, which would remain unbeaten after sweeping the U.S., 25-23, 25-22, 25-17.
Russell again led the U.S. in scoring with 16 points on 14 kills and two aces, while outside hitter Garrett Muagututia had 11 points on nine kills and two aces.
Canada proved to be another tough opponent, and although it took a tiebreaker to decide it, the U.S. rebounded from the loss to Brazil with a 21-25, 25-11, 20-25, 25-19, 15-13 victory. The U.S. led in kills, 58-41, with a percentage of 54.7 behind setter Micah Christenson. This time Anderson led the team in scoring with 20 points while Muagututia came off the bench and totaled 14 points. Russell had 13 points and Jeff Jendryk 12 in relief of starter Holt.
The next matchup didn’t take quite as long to wrap up. The U.S. swept Australia, 25-14, 25-13, 25-16, to improve to 7-2 as the tournament started to wind down on Sunday in Hiroshima.
Anderson again led in scoring with 13 points on nine kills, three blocks and one ace and Muagututia scored 12 points on 10 kills and two aces. Russell had 10 points on eight kills and two blocks.
The penultimate game of the tournament was against Russia, and the U.S. notched an emphatic 25-23, 25-11, 25-16 victory to set up for the finale on a high note. This time with a kill percentage of 64.3 behind Christenson, the U.S. held a 45-27 advantage in kills, a 9-2 lead in blocks and a 7-3 advantage in aces against Russia, which was without its top players.
Muagututia led the team with 16 points on 11 kills, two blocks and three aces; Russell had 11 points and Holt 10.
Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.