BYU great Sander powers U.S. past Serbia, into World League semifinals

Outside attacker Taylor Sander elevated his play with the United States on the brink of elimination to get the team into the FIVB World League semifinals.

Sander finished with a both a match-high 18 kills and three aces as the United States defeated Serbia 25-22, 25-23, 19-25, 25-22 in a must-win pool-play match on Wednesday in Brazil to qualify for the semifinals.

Along his team-leading offensive performance, the former BYU All-American had back-to-back kills to complete a U.S. comeback in the second game. The United States (5-6, 1-1 Pool K, 4 points) trailed Serbia 23-20 before closing out the game on a 5-0 run to take a two-game lead in the pool-play match.

Sander was one of two U.S. players with double-digit kills against Serbia (6-4, 0-1 Pool K, 0 points). Former Loyola All-American outside attacker Thomas Jaeschke in his second World League match since returning from an injury added 13 kills.

The United States for second consecutive match in the World League Final Round had a better offensive efficiency than its opponent. Setter Micah Christenson had a match-best 32 excellent sets and guided the United States to the a 49.56 percent offensive efficiency.

The former USC All-American and two-time winner of the Lloy Ball Award also added two blocks and six digs.

Libero Erik Shoji, a former four-time All-American at Stanford, led the United States defensively with 12 digs.

Serbia opposite Aleksandar Atanasijevic in the loss finished with a team-high 16 kills. Atanasijevic, though, was the only Serbian player to have more than eight kills in the team’s pool-play opener.

The United States held outside attacker Marko Ivovic to seven kills on a 38.89 percent offensive efficiency. Ivovic began the finals with a tournament-best 53.94 percent offensive efficiency, and he had a match-high 13 kills in Serbia’s victory versus the United States in the preliminary round.

The United States entered its pool-play finale needing a victory to make the semifinals following a five-game loss to France on Tuesday. It also joins Canada as the only teams to have clinched a semifinal berth with the pool-play stage concluding on Thursday.

Both Serbia and France (9-1, 1-0 Pool K, 2 points) still have a chance to earn the other semifinal berth from Pool K as the two teams play each other on Thursday. Serbia must beat France in three or four games to clinch a spot in the semifinals, while France at a minimum needs to force a fifth game.

The United States will play Brazil, Russia or Canada in the semifinals on Friday. All three of those teams from Pool J have clinched a berth or remain in contention for a semifinal berth entering the final day of pool-play.