2018 FIVB Volleyball Nations League

USA Caps Bittersweet Weekend With First Medal Since '16 Olympics

USA Caps Bittersweet Weekend With First Medal Since '16 Olympics

The U.S. Men’s National Team had not medaled in a major international tournament since the 2016 Olympics, but a sweep of Brazil changed that.

Jul 8, 2018 by Megan Kaplon
American Men Capture Bronze vs. Brazil

The U.S. Men’s National Team had not medaled in a major international tournament since the 2016 Olympics, but a sweep of Brazil in the bronze medal match of the Volleyball Nations League, ended the drought.

Seven USA blocks in the 25-21, 28-26, 28-26 victory played a key role in suppressing the Brazilian attack, while five aces and strong serving throughout often put Brazil out of system.

Offensively, Aaron Russell led the way for Team USA in the bronze-medal match with 14 points, and Matt Anderson was not far behind with 13. Setter Micah Christenson and libero Erik Shoji led the defensive effort in the back court, with Christenson fearlessly stepping into the path of top Brazilian scorer Wallace De Souza’s hard cross-court swings time and time again.

On Saturday, the USA’s dream of competing for a gold medal was crushed in a tightly contested semifinal versus host France. The Americans’ opponents initially went up 2-0, but Team USA rallied back, winning sets three and four to push the match to five. 

To start the match, USA head coach John Speraw put Matt Anderson and Taylor Sander on the left, with Ben Patch on the right, a combination that worked wondrously against Poland in the first match of the VNL Final Six. After losing sets one and two of the semifinal, however, Speraw moved Anderson to the right and subbed in Aaron Russell to play opposite Sander on the left.

The change worked and resulted in victories in sets three and four for the USA, but in set five, France jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the third and although the Americans tied it back up at 7s, the match ultimately belonged to the host team, which won 15-13.

“We have some great flexibility with the players that we have," Speraw said in an interview with USA Volleyball. "[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.”

Anderson finished the match with a team-high 23 points; however, his contributions paled in comparison to French hitter Stephen Boyer’s match-high 31 points.

Speraw stuck with the combination of Anderson on the right and Sander and Russell on the left for the bronze-medal match.

In pool play at the Final Round, Team USA swept Poland and knew heading into its second match that it had already qualified for the semis. Speraw chose to play his second-string lineup and the USA lost in straight sets to Russia, setting up the match with France, which went 2-0 in pool play, in the semifinals.

Russia, which swept the USA twice in the tournament, defeated France in straight sets in the gold-medal match, thanks in large part to 19 points from tournament MVP Maxim Mikhaylov.

Anderson and Sander also made the VNL Dream Team, with Anderson being named Best Opposite and Sander joining Russia’s Dmitry Volkov as Best Outside Hitters. 

As the inaugural Volleyball Nations League comes to a close, American volleyball fans have more to celebrate than a bronze medal for the men and a gold for the women. The FIVB announced that the USA will host the next three editions of the men’s Volleyball Nations League Finals.