With its starters on the bench, the U.S. men's national volleyball team still gave Russia a good battle on the final day of the FIVB Volleyball Nations League Super Final in Lille, France on Friday.
USA coach John Speraw reasoned that with a spot in Saturday's semifinal already guaranteed, he'd use the backups to play for the top spot in the group. It was the same reasoning Speraw used against Russia during the regular season.
Aaron Russell, Kyle Ensing, Jeffrey Jendryk, Torey Defalco, Daniel Madonnell, Stanford grad Kawika Shoji and Dustin Watten were brought on to play the Russian, falling 25-22, 25-21, 25-21.
"I think the VNL requires that you play your entire team, so I felt really comfortable putting our guys out there," Speraw said. "We have a schedule in the finals where we have to play four matches in a row; so if you're fortunate enough to move on to the semis before you play your second match, then you have to make sure that you're managing rest and recovery for your players."
Russia beat the Americans a third straight time, ending an eight-match losing streak to the U.S., which meets regular-season champion France in the semifinals. Russia and Brazil meet in the other semifinal.
Russell led the Americans with 14 points, all on kills. Ensing added 11 points on 10 kills and a service ace. Shoji had one of Team USA's four aces.
"Aaron Russell got to play. I mean, obviously he was a starter for us," Speraw said. "If Taylor [Sander can't come back, we're gonna have to go to him."
Sander suffered a knee injury near the end of USA's win over Poland on Thursday.