[Editor’s note: Off the Block is partnering with Ball State at the Games to provide the volleyball community with in-depth coverage of the U.S. Men’s National Team as it competes for an Olympic gold medal.]
Robby General | Ball State at the Games
Dallas – The U.S. Men’s National Team clinched a spot to the FIVB World League Finals with its sweep against Australia Saturday.
That fact went unnoticed by some players.
“Honestly, I didn’t know we clinched tonight, I really try to not focus on that stuff,” outside attacker Thomas Jaeschke said. “Confidence wise though, we feel good about our guys. You always feel good walking onto the court against anyone.”
It doesn’t seem matter who the United States puts on the court on a given night, the confidence seems to stick.
The starting lineup from Saturday’s match against Australia saw three new players from Friday’s match against Bulgaria.
It also saw three new leading scorers.
“I think we just approach the match with being aggressive with as much energy and fire as possible,” setter Micah Christenson said. “We know that whatever lineup we put out there we’re always going to compete.”
One of the new starters was middle attacker Max Holt, who hadn’t played since the World League began on June 16.
Holt led the United States with both four blocks and three aces, tying him with opposite Murphy Troy for leading U.S. scorer as each finished with 14 points. Outside attacker Aaron Russell also added 13 points.
Coach John Speraw said he has been pleased with his ability to switch up his lineups with younger and older players throughout the summer.
“Our depth has really improved over the last few years. Obviously, the inclusion of a few young guys who have now had the opportunity to go play overseas and gain some good experience has helped,” Speraw said. “We’ve developed great depth at every position on the volleyball court.”
Depth is also an advantage to the United States during an Olympic summer in the World League.
The World League schedule in an Olympic year has left little room for any team to reflect on one particular night. During Olympic summers, four teams travel to one location to play three matches against one another in a single weekend, compared to a two-match weekend series between two teams.
“You know this is a long tournament,” four-time Olympic outside attacker Reid Priddy said. “Playing three nights in a row is kind of unique. It’s only on an Olympic year that we do this. No other tournament is like this.”
The United States will finish three-match World League weekend in Dallas against Russia (5-3), a team they are familiar with.
“We’ve talked about Russia a little bit earlier in the week,” Speraw said. “There’s a lot of familiarity with a lot of these players because a couple of our key guys play in Russia over the professional year.”
But like the United States, Russia has a couple of new faces that Speraw hasn’t seen much of before.
This will be the final match before the United States travels to the FIVB World League Finals that begins July 13 in Krakow, Poland.