COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (July 7, 2018) – The U.S. Men’s National Team rallied once and rallied twice and rallied once again, but France ran away with the 25-17, 25-17, 23-25, 24-26, 15-13 win in the semifinals of the Volleyball Nations League finals on Saturday in Lille, France.
The United States will play Brazil for bronze on Sunday at 8 a.m. PT. Russia defeated Brazil in the second semifinal, 25-18, 25-17, 25-14. The finals will be shown LIVE on FloVolleyball.tv, a subscription service.
After posting two big rallies in the match, the U.S. Men found themselves needing more in the fifth France led the fifth set 7-5, but the U.S. tied at 7-7. France led 11-9 and the U.S. tied it again. France reached match point at 14-12. A Taylor Sander attack was called out of bounds, but the U.S. won a challenge to make it 14-13. A final kill by France’s outside hitter Earvin Ngapeth gave France the victory.
The key to the comeback was U.S. Head Coach John Speraw changing his lineup after losing the first two sets. He moved Matt Anderson from left side to opposite and brought in Aaron Russell to join Taylor Sander at outside hitter.
"We got better as the match progressed, and obviously we have some great flexibility with the players that we have," Speraw said. "Matt [Anderson] did a great job. These matches help us learn a lot about our guys. We'll just have to go back and evaluate and keep getting better. I'm looking forward to training now. The hardest thing with the VNL is that you get so little practice time."
Anderson, who was already leading the U.S. Men in scoring, continued to be a strong presence at the net and in the back row, making some important digs. He finished with 22 kills and one ace.
Sander finished with 18 kills, several from the back row, one block and one ace. In three sets of play, Russell scored 15 points on 10 kills, three blocks and a team-high two aces.
Middle blocker Max Holt proved a steady presence and had 11 points on eight kills and three blocks. Middle blocker David Smith struggled early, but found his rhythm and scored on four kills and one block.
Micah Christenson set the U.S. Men to a 55.3 kill percentage. France’s was 55 percent. Christenson also gave U.S. fans a scare when he hopped the court barrier and ran into the arena stairs trying to save an errant pass.
"We felt we battled, we fought all day," Christenson said. "It wasn't the most pretty volleyball from either side. I mean they played in the first two sets and I thought we responded well. We just got too far behind in the fifth; that’s the way it goes."
French opposite Stephen Boyer led all scorers with 31 points on 25 kills, three blocks and three aces.
It was clear the U.S. Men were struggling after the first two sets on Saturday. Although the U.S. led in kills, France led in blocks (6-1) and aces (4-0) while 33 percent of U.S. serves went for errors.
The effect of the lineup change was immediate at the U.S. Men jumped to a 17-12 led in the third set and held on for the 25-23 win.
The U.S. Men trailed 19-14 in the fourth set, but scored three straight points off a tip and a strike by Anderson and a block from Aaron Russell to make it 19-17. France reached match point at 24-22, but Sander scored on a kill and France had a hitting error. Christenson served an ace and Sander scored on a kill to force the fifth set.
U.S. STARTERS VS FRANCE
Outside hitter: Matt Anderson and Taylor Sander
Middle blocker: Max Holt and David Smith
Opposite: Ben Patch
Setter: Micah Christenson
Libero: Erik Shoji
Substitutes: Kyle Ensing (opposite), Aaron Russell (outside hitter)
U.S. STATISTICS VS FRANCE
Kills: Anderson 22, Sander 18, Russell 10, Holt 8, Smith 4, Patch 4, Ensing 2
Blocks: Russell 3, Holt 3, Anderson 1, Smith 1, Sander 1, Christenson 1
Aces: Russell 2, Sander 1, Christenson 1
U.S. Men’s 14-Man Travel Roster for Lille, France
1. Matt Anderson (Opp/OH, 6-9, West Seneca, N.Y., Penn State)
2. Aaron Russell (OH, 6-9, Ellicott City, Md., Penn State)
3. Taylor Sander (OH, 6-4, Huntington Beach, Calif., BYU)
4. Jeff Jendryk (MB, 6-10, Wheaton, Ill., Loyola of Chicago)
7. Kawika Shoji (S, 6-3, Honolulu, Hawaii, Stanford)
8. T.J. DeFalco (OH, 6-5, Huntington Beach, Calif., Long Beach State)
10. Dan McDonnell (MB, 6-6, Phoenix, Ariz., UC Irvine)
11. Micah Christenson (S, 6-6, Honolulu, Hawaii, Southern California)
12. Max Holt (MB, 6-10, Cincinnati, Ohio, Penn State)
13. Ben Patch (Opp, 6-8, Provo, Utah, BYU)
20C. David Smith (MB, 6-7, Saugus, Calif., UC Irvine)
21. Dustin Watten (L, 6-0, Long Beach, Calif., Long Beach State)
22. Erik Shoji (L, 6-0, Honolulu, Hawaii, Stanford)
26. Kyle Ensing (Opp, 6-7, Valencia, Calif., Long Beach State)
Head Coach: John Speraw
Team Manager: Nate Ngo
Assistant Coaches: Rob Neilson and Brian Thornton
Technical Coordinator: Nate Ngo
Athletic Trainer: Aaron Brock
Psychologist: Andrea Becker
Team Doctor: Eugene Yim
Consultant Coach: Mike Wall
Final Six Schedule/Results (All times PT)
Russia def Poland, 25-18, 25-23, 22-25, 25-17
France def Brazil, 22-25, 25-20, 21-25, 25-22, 15-13
USA def Poland, 28-26, 25-17, 25-18
Brazil def Serbia, 25-16, 28-26, 25-19
Russia def USA, 25-22, 25-21, 25-21
France def Serbia, 25-19, 25-18, 25-17
Semifinal: France def USA, 25-17, 25-17, 23-25, 24-26, 15-13
Semifinal: Russia def Brazil, 25-18, 25-17, 25-14
Bronze medal at 8 a.m.: USA v Brazil
Gold medal at 11:45 a.m.: France v Russia