The U.S. men’s national volleyball team closed FIVB World League pool play on a high note, defeating host Poland, 26-31, 25-17, 27-25, 25-20 on Sunday in Lodz.
The U.S. finished World League pool play at 4-5 and advanced to the Final Round in Curitiba, Brazil, after Argentina knocked out Bulgaria in four sets.
While the U.S. and Poland finished tied in attacks (48-48), the U.S. Men led in blocks (13-5) and aces (8-7). Also, after struggling with errors in the first set, the U.S. Men cleaned things up and ended up scoring 37 points on Poland’s errors and committing 35.
Outside hitter Taylor Sander led all scorers with 17 points on 10 kills, four blocks and three aces. Middle blocker Jeff Jendryk added 13 points on nine kills and four blocks.
"I am really proud of the way our team played," Stanford grad and U.S. team captain Kawika Shoji said. "It is always tough to play against Poland on their ground. We have many young players, some injuries, but we found a way to win. We have the team spirit, we are always together as a team and that is the key to success."
Opposite Carson Clark, who was named the match MVP, finished with 12 points on 12 kills.
"We obviously had a challenging tournament, reflecting on the last three weeks," U.S. coach John Speraw said. "We have new players for whom it was the very first experience in the national team."
The Americans, who beat the Poles in the 2015 bronze-medal match and in the 2016 Olympic quarter-finals, started strongly and moved into a 7-4 lead.
But Poland, roared on by a partisan crowd, responded admirably and took a 19-15 lead.
The USA weren’t done though and a couple of David Smith spikes handed them set points, but the Poles came from 28-29 down to take the set 31-29.
The United States won the World League as recently as 2014 and took bronze at the Olympics last year, and they roused themselves in the second set to race into a 10-3 lead with their big defenders Jeffrey Jendryk and Micah Christenson putting in some huge blocks.
Polish errors were also creeping in – Maciej Muzaj made contact with the net to gift the Americans a point, as the USA surged 18-11 clear.
That seven-point deficit proved far too much for the Poles and Jake Langlois scored the winning point (25-17) as the Americans leveled the match at one set apiece.
Into the third set and Poland slowly began to assert their control. With the crowd behind them, the hosts earned a 16-12 lead, yet the Americans, who were facing almost certain elimination if they didn’t win this set, produced a brilliant comeback to draw level at 21-21.
The set continued to go back and forth: Konarski fended off an American set point before the Poles missed a chance to go 2-1 up as David Smith kept the Americans in the set. Smith was then on hand to fire an ace to wrap up the set 27-25. Advantage USA.
The momentum was now with the USA, who looked like they were charging towards victory in the fourth set with Carson Clark’s spike putting them 8-4 in front.
Some brilliant Polish serving had the hosts back level at 14-14. John Speraw’s side, though, found the extra quality that took them to the Olympic podium last season as they blitzed into a 21-16 lead with some explosive attacking.
The US were in the zone and despite the Poles saving one match point, a dreadful serve into the net handed the set (25-20) and the match to the visitors. The Americans go 13-11 ahead in their head-to-head encounters against Poland.
"It is a tremendous achievement to have a chance to play in Final Six because we started with three losses," Speraw said. "As Kawika mentioned, it was a tough time, we had some injuries, we needed to change the roster completely, so I am very proud of this victory."