Jaeschke leads U.S. past Russia for top semifinals seed at VNL Finals

Photo courtesy of the FIVB

Outside attacker Thomas Jaeschke had quite the homecoming in Chicago.

The former Loyola All-American finished with a match-high 11 kills on a 55.0 percent offensive efficiency as the United States swept Russia 25-21, 25-17, 25-20 on Friday to clinch the Pool A title at the FIVB Volleyball Nations League Finals.

Both Russia and the United States before the match had already earned the pool’s two berths to the semifinals. However, this U.S. victory secured the pool championship and a semifinal match-up against the defending Olympic gold medalists Brazil on Saturday.

Jaeschke was making one of his first starts since spending a full year recovering from a knee injury that he suffered last year during this tournament’s preliminary round. With Jaeschke back on the court, the United States had a starting lineup against Russia comprised entirely of players who helped the country win the 2016 Olympic bronze medal.

This was one of the first times during the Volleyball Nations League that the United States used a lineup of all former Olympics. The United States as the host nation received an automatic berth from the preliminary round to the six-team Finals.

Jaeschke was one of four U.S. players to have at least five kills against Russia.

Former Penn State opposite Matt Anderson had seven kills on a 46.7 percent offensive efficiency in the first two games before being subbed out. Former UCLA outside attacker Garrett Muagututia coming off the bench added five kills, while former UC Irvine middle attacker David Smith added five kills on a team-best 71.4 percent offensive efficiency.

Princeton middle attacker George Huhmann also made his Finals debut and started the third game. Huhmann, the only active college player on the U.S. roster, finished with two kills and a 67.7 percent offensive efficiency.

The United States out-blocked Russia 12 to 7, including former Penn State middle attacker Max Holt who had a match-high three blocks.

This is the second consecutive match that Holt led the United States in blocks. Holt finished with a match-high eight blocks in the team’s pool-play opening victory against France on Wednesday.

Outside attacker Fedor Voronkov in the loss led Russia with nine kills.

Russia will play the Pool B champions Poland in the semifinals on Saturday. Poland defeated both Brazil and Iran in the pool-play stage to earn a top seed to the semifinals.

Brazil beat Iran in five games on Friday to earn the final semifinals berth from Pool B. Outside attacker Ricardo Lucarelli Souza in that victory finished with a match-high six aces and added 10 kills.