Heading into the Tokyo Qualification Tournament, the No. 2 world-ranked USA men’s national team was a heavy favorite in Pool B, which also included No. 12 Belgium, No. 15 Netherlands, and No. 24 Korea.
And with three back-to-back victories, the team lived up to the hype, earning a spot in the 2020 Olympics.
“It is not easy playing three matches in a row, especially when you’re the favorite,” USA head coach John Speraw said. “It is always difficult to go out and play against teams that have nothing to lose. I think we handled that stress really well. We were poised and competed incredibly hard and played a great collective team game.”
On Friday night, the USA defeated Belgium 25-20, 25-19, 17-25, 25-18, then on Saturday, the U.S. men took down Korea in straight sets 25-20, 25-21, 25-16. Finally, on Sunday, they locked in the Olympic berth with a 25-18, 25-20, 17-25, 25-21 victory over the Netherlands.
The first two nights, outside hitter Aaron Russell, who missed much of the Volleyball Nations League tournament earlier this summer while dealing with a knee injury, lead the team on offense, scoring match-high 19 points versus Belgium and 11 against Korea. He had 18 in the Netherlands match, but Matt Anderson topped his total by one point, leading the USA with 19.
“It was a tough tournament, but I’m really happy with how we all played,” Anderson said. “Aaron coming back and playing lights out for almost every part of every match and guys stepping in off the bench taking the place of Taylor Sander right now—it’s a great team effort all week.”
Sander, the team’s captain, didn’t play in any of the three matches this week in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Instead, Garrett Muagututia and Thomas Jaeschke shared time in the second outside hitting spot.
By the conclusion of all six pools in the Tokyo Qualification Tournament, six teams joined Japan in securing a spot in next year’s Olympics. Along with the USA, Brazil, Italy, Poland, Russia, and Argentina earned berths.