Everything is beginning to come together at the right time for the United States.
Already assured a spot in the FIVB Volleyball Nations League Finals as the host nation, the United States concluded a three-match home stand with a sweep against China on Sunday for its sixth win in the last seven matches.
Off the Block following the U.S. latest win interviewed opposite Ben Patch, outside attacker Taylor Sander and assistant coach Rob Neilson. Check out what the players and coaches said about the state of the team entering the final week of the preliminary round.
[Editor’s note: These interviews were conducted by USA Volleyball Communications Manager B.J. Hoeptner Evans on behalf of Off the Block. Off the Block submitted the questions to Evans, who was in attendance covering the U.S. match against China.]
Ben Patch, opposite
Off the Block: What was the biggest difference in how the team played in its win against China on Sunday compared to its loss against Canada on Saturday.
Patch: Overall, energy again. Volleyball, it’s really some nights you just have it and some nights you just can’t do anything about it. One team is just working a little bit better. We just didn’t start the match super hot. If you don’t start super well it’s always a struggle to kind of climb back. I think the thing for us, we had the goal and intention to start every single match and set hot and get firey, and I think that was just a good beginning for us every single set.
Off the Block: Do you feel that over the course of the last few weeks the team’s serving is getting better?
Patch: Serving is just like the emphasis of volleyball. In men’s volleyball it’s like whoever is going to serve better. There is no rhyme or reason why some nights you just miss all you serves and then why you make them all. It’s just like a vibe thing I guess. We do really emphasis it because it is obviously so important. I do feel like especially with float serving we’ve been emphasizing that a lot. We have mostly jump servers on our team. This last year we transferred, and I transferred, into a float serve to kind of mix it up a bit so that we have some people having a consistent float. In practices we have float servers that are challenging our passers. If you are just receiving jumps all the time you aren’t getting that exposure.
Taylor Sander, outside attacker
Off the Block: What do you feel has been the biggest improvement in your game since the 2016 Olympics?
Sander: I would say it’s just mentally — just playing free, not thinking too much — and then I think I’ve gotten better at passing, which has been a big part of my role on the team. I just want to keep trying to get better at the little things and just help with the percentages that help us win.
Off the Block: What has been your thoughts of the younger pin-hitters on this time like Micah Ma’a?
Sander: It’s fun. That’s good for us. I’m a veteran on the team now, so it’s good to have those young guys pushing us and keeping us in the gym working hard knowing that they are coming for our spots. For me, it’s important to have those kind of guys on your team and help push and improve our whole USA volleyball team.
Rob Neilson, assistant coach
Off the Block: How do you are feeling going into your upcoming matches in Bulgaria to close out the VNL preliminary round?
Neilson: We’re excited. We are taking a young group so it’s a chance for us to get better, learn and compete. We’ll have our top group going back to Anaheim, so they are going to train over there. It’s a chance for the young guys to get after it.