TOKYO, Japan (Sept. 22, 2015) – The U.S. Men’s National Team kept its hopes for Olympic qualification alive with a 25-23, 26-24, 25-17 win over Russia on Tuesday at the FIVB World Cup at Yoyogi National Gymnasium.
The U.S. Men improved to 9-1 and are in second place heading into the final day of World Cup matches, which will determine the tournament winner as well as the two teams that will qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Only three teams are left with a chance to qualify for the Olympic Games: Poland (10-0), the United States (9-1) and Italy (9-1). The loss dropped Russia to 7-3 with no chance to qualify.
The U.S. Men will play Argentina (7-3) in the last match of the tournament. Argentina cannot improve its position. But it would no doubt love to play spoiler for the U.S. Men as it did at the 2014 FIVB World Championship when it beat the U.S. and eliminated it from the competition.
Poland will play Italy in the first match on Wednesday.
Against Russia, libero Erik Shoji was named the Most Impressive Player for digging and receiving in the path of Russia’s tough serves and attacks, including those from 7-foot-2 Dmitriy Muserskiy.
“Great teams usually have a great libero,” U.S. Men’s Head Coach John Speraw said of Shoji. “He’s a player that’s continuing to get better as he has had more and more opportunities. Like many of our players, it’s his first quadrennial, so I think he’s doing an outstanding job.”
Shoji was credited with a match-high 14 digs and four excellent receptions. Russia finished with two aces and a hitting efficiency of .397. The U.S. hitting efficiency behind setter Micah Christenson was .449.
Although the U.S. had only three aces, it had only 11 serving errors as well.
Shoji said Russia challenged the U.S. the most in the second set when the U.S. trailed by three. The libero credited his brother, backup setter and serving specialist Kawika Shoji, with helping to bring the team back.
“Russia is a team that can always come back,” Shoji said. “So you’re up three and then you’re tied instantly because their servers are so tough and they have a huge block.
“Kawika came in and turned us around. I was happy about that.”
With the U.S. trailing, 15-12, U.S. opposite Matt Anderson scored with a kill. Kawika came in to serve for middle blocker Max Holt and the U.S. scored two more points on a block from setter Micah Christenson and back-row attack from outside hitter Aaron Russell.
Russell led the U.S. in scoring with 16 points on 16 kills, many from the back-row. He also led in excellent receptions with 10. Anderson added 12 points on 11 kills and one ace. Outside hitter Taylor Sander played an all-around strong match with five kills, three blocks and two aces.
The U.S. middle blockers continued to play key roles as Holt finished with eight points on five kills and three blocks and David Lee totaled seven points on seven attacks.
Russia’s Maxim Mikhaylov led all scorers with 19 points on 17 kills, one block and one ace.
Caroline Kennedy, the U.S. Ambassador to Japan and daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, was at the match and congratulated the U.S. Men's Team in person when it was completed.
Kills: Russell 16, Anderson 11, Lee 7, Sander 5, Holt 5, Christenson 2
Blocks: Sander 3, Holt 3, Christenson 1
Aces: Sander 2, Anderson 1
Digs: E Shoji 14, Sander 4, Anderson 2, Lee 2, Christenson 1, Russell 1
Outside hitters: Taylor Sander and Aaron Russell
Middle blockers: Max Holt and David Smith
Opposite: Matt Anderson
Setter: Micah Christenson
Libero: Erik Shoji
U.S. Roster for the FIVB World Cup
No. Name (Position, Height, Hometown, College)
1. Matt Anderson (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. David Lee (MB, 6-8, Alpine, Calif., Long Beach State)
6. Paul Lotman (OH, 6-7, Lakewood, Calif., Long Beach State)
7. Kawika Shoji (S, 6-3, Honolulu, Hawaii, Stanford)
9. Murphy Troy (Opp, 6-8, St. Louis, Mo., Southern California)
11. Micah Christenson (S, 6-6, Honolulu, Southern California)
12. Russell Holmes (MB, 6-8, Fountain Valley, Calif., BYU)
16. Jayson Jablonsky (OH, 6-5, Yorba Linda, Calif., UC Irvine)
17. Max Holt (MB, 6-9, Cincinnati, Ohio, Penn State)
20. 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)
U.S. Schedule for the 2015 FIVB World Cup (All times PT)
Round 1 in Hiroshima
Sept. 8: USA def Australia, 25-23, 25-12, 25-15
Sept. 9: USA def Japan, 25-23, 21-25, 25-11, 25-14
Sept. 10: USA def Canada, 25-21, 25-20, 25-17
Sept. 11: USA def Italy, 25-18, 25-23, 29-27
Sept. 12: USA def Egypt, 25-20, 25-13, 25-21
Round 2 in Osaka
Sept. 15: USA def Venezuela, 25-16, 25-18, 25-20
Sept. 16: USA def Iran, 20-25, 25-19, 25-22, 25-21
Sept. 17: USA def Tunisia, 25-14, 25-19, 29-27
Round 3 in Tokyo
Sept. 21: Poland def USA, 17-25, 25-15, 25-23, 25-15 | TV Universal Sports, 6 p.m. ET
Sept. 22: USA def Russia, 23, 26-24, 25-17 | TV Universal Sports, 6 p.m. ET
Sept. 23 at 2:40 a.m. USA v Argentina | TV Universal Sports, 6 p.m. ET