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Playing at home in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, the U.S. men’s national team finished Week 4 of the 2019 Volleyball Nations League with two wins and a loss and celebrated the season debuts of two veteran players.
Last week’s results puts the USA in seventh place in the standings with a 7-5 record and 22 points heading into the final week of preliminary competition.
In case you missed it, here’s how things went down in Week 4:
3-0 (25-15, 25-19, 25-19)
Thomas Jaeschke’s return to world-level competition with Team USA highlighted the Americans’ Week 4 opener versus Japan. After tearing his ACL a year ago inside the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Jaeschke tallied nine points (six kills and three blocks) on Friday night, helping the U.S. men secure a straight-set victory over the Asian squad.
“Great to see Thomas Jaeschke back on the court,” USA head coach John Speraw said after the match. “I think the guys were excited for him and that’s a large part why I think the energy was so great.”
Middle David Smith led all scorers with 14 points, six of them stuff blocks. As a team, the USA out-blocked Japan 12 to three and out-aced the opponent eight to two.
“I thought we blocked the ball really well and had great energy early in the match,” Speraw continued. “I thought our intensity was great. But it really started with our block and defense.”
Taylor Sander, Ben Patch, Jeff Jendryk, and Micah Christenson rounded out the rest of the starting lineup, with Erik Shoji in at libero.
Japan, on the other hand, chose not to play many of its top players, including points leaders Yuji Nishida and Yuki Ishikawa, libero Tomohiro Yamamoto, and setter Masahiro Sekita.
“I’m not disappointed,” Japan head coach Yuichi Nakagaichi said. “We kept our starting players for the next two days. The U.S. is pretty good at serving. Our passing suffered so much. Today was not our day.”
1-3 (22-25, 25-22, 23-25, 17-25)
On Saturday, Canada handed the U.S. men their fifth loss of the VNL, despite playing without star opposite hitter Sharone Vernon-Evans, who suffered an injury on just the third point of Friday’s match versus China. (Looked like an ankle injury coming down from a block, but can’t be sure.)
Canada served well and blocked even better, out-blocking the U.S. squad nine to five, and the Americans made 34 errors in the match to Canada’s 23.
“I’m disappointed in the loss,” Speraw said. “We never really put any pressure on them from a service perspective or the block and defense. When we did in certain stretches of the match, we played pretty well. But over the course of the match we just didn’t sustain it.”
Matt Anderson, in his 2019 Team USA debut, collected a match-high 19 points on 18 kills and an ace. Garrett Muagututia had 18 points (16 kills, two blocks), and TJ DeFalco contributed 17 (13 kills, one block, three aces).
Muagututia played perhaps his best match of the summer so far, but his contributions were unevenly spread out throughout the match. He scored 12 points in the first set and then had no more than three points in each of the remaining three sets.
National team rookie Micah Ma’a set against Canada, while Max Holt and Taylor Averill started in the middle. In hopes of regaining control of the match, Speraw subbed David Smith in for Averill in the second set and then started Smith the remaining two sets and replaced Holt with Jendryk in the fourth, but the changes weren’t enough to slow down the Canadian squad.
3-0 (25-20, 25-19, 25-19)
On Sunday, USA rode a 10-to-two blocking advantage to a straight-set victory over China, which sits last place in the VNL standings. With Christenson back in the starting setter position, the Americans hit .532 to China’s .368, and Taylor Sander led the team with 15 points.
Patch replaced Anderson on the right and Muagututia got the starting nod once again on the left, with both players finishing the match with 14 points.
Smith and Jendryk, who were the middles in at the end of the Canada match, started and played the entire match versus China.
Shoji once again started the match at libero, as he had all week, but Larry Tuileta also saw some time on the floor in the libero jersey in the second and third sets, switching out with Shoji.
After the match, China’s head coach Raul Lozano—who has coached the national teams of Iran, Spain, Poland, and Germany—praised the talent of the USA team.
“The United States team is at another level technically. Without doubt, it is one of the top four teams in this tournament,” Lozano said. “I am not satisfied with the result, but I thought we played better than the past matches.”
For the final week of the VNL preliminary rounds, the USA hits the road again, this time traveling to Bulgaria to face Bulgaria (No. 12 in the standings), Serbia (No. 11), and Iran (No. 2).