In what U.S. Olympic men's volleyball coach John Speraw called "our best match of World League so far," the Americans defeated Italy, 25-22, 25-23, 25-23, on Sunday at the Pala Lottomatica in Rome.
The victory improved the U.S. record to 5-1 and moved it into third place in Group 1 behind Serbia (6-0) and Brazil (6-0). The top five teams in pool play will advance to the Final Round in Krakow, Poland and a chance to win $1 million.
On Monday, the U.S. Men will travel to Dallas, Texas where they will play the final weekend of pool play on July 1-3 against Bulgaria (0-6), Australia (0-6) and Russia (3-3) at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center Arena.
After losing the first sets of their last four matches, the U.S. Men got off to a strong start against Italy (4-2), taking a 12-5 lead.
"I think we came out really strong in the first and second sets, in the first eight points," U.S. middle blocker David Smith said. "I don't know if they were surprised by that. We didn't start those sets as quickly yesterday or the day before."
U.S. blocking was particularly tough. The U.S. Men led 6-0 in blocks after the first set and 12-4 by the end of the match. Outside hitter Taylor Sander led the block party with four.
The U.S. serving was also consistent, even though the team only finished with two aces. However they held their errors to 14 and often pulled Italy out of system.
"We had some really timely serving and I thought we kept the pressure on them all night," said U.S. outside hitter Thomas Jaeschke, who was the team's leading scorer with 14 points on 12 kills and two blocks.
The U.S. hitting efficiency was .325 behind setter Micah Christenson.
Opposite Luca Vettori led Italy with 14 points on 14 kills. Star outside hitter Ivan Zaytsev was held to four points on four kills and was pulled from the match for a time in the first set.
For the U.S., Smith finished with 10 points on eight kills, one block and one ace. Sander totaled nine points on four kills, four blocks and one ace.
Speraw praised the performances of Jaeschke and Sander and also of opposite Murphy Troy, who came off the bench for Matt Anderson in the second set and finished out the match with strong play.
"It's really uplifting," Speraw said. "Murph is one of the hardest working guys I've ever coached. It is great to see him become more comfortable in that role because obviously it's a very valuable one. He helped us win the volleyball match."