Russia meddles in U.S. bid to win gold medal at VNL Finals

Photo courtesy of the FIVB

Matt Anderson was pretty clear in his postmatch news conference that he couldn’t care less about individual honors — and that’s even after winning the most valuable player of a prestigious international tournament.

Anderson’s match-high 18 kills was not enough for the United States to overcome Russia in the gold-medal match as it lost 25-23, 20-25, 25-21, 25-20 on Sunday in Chicago at the FIVB Volleyball Nations League Finals.

The United States was attempting to become the first host nation in 25 years to win a gold medal at the Volleyball Nations League or the annual tournament’s predecessor the FIVB World League. In addition, the silver medal is the nation’s highest finish at these tournaments since winning the World League in 2014.

The United States, though, had its opportunities in the gold-medal match against Russia.

The team had a five-point lead midway through the third game before Russia responded with a 10-4 run to take the lead and eventually win the game. In addition, the United States led midway through the fourth game only have Russia go on an 8-2 run and build up a sizable lead to close out the match.

Along with Anderson, outside attacker Taylor Sander had 17 kills on a 58.6 percent offensive efficiency and a team-high two aces.

The former BYU and Penn State All-Americans were the only U.S. players to have more than five kills in the gold-medal match.

Russia had three players finish with double-digit kills, including outside attacker Dmitry Volkov who had a team-high 13 kills. Outside attcker Egor Kliuka ended with 11 kills while posting a 78.6 percent offensive efficiency, and opposite Victor Poletaev contributed 10 kills

Middle attacker Ivan Iakovlev also had a match-high four blocks as Russia out-blocked the United States 10 to 7.

The United States had three other players win individual honors at the tournament to accompany Anderson’s most valuable player award.

Former USC All-American Micah Christenson was named the Best Setter, while former Stanford All-American libero Erik Shoji won the Best Libero. In addition, former Penn State All-American Max Holt was selected as the Best Middle Attacker.

Holt had back-to-back blocks early in the second game that gave the United States a lead it would not surrender. The middle attacker also contributed three kills in the five-point win to help the United States even the match.

Russia won the opening game on an attack error from Anderson that could have forced an overtime.

The officials called the ball out of bounds and was not touched by a Russian blocker. The United States had already used all its challenges in the that game, and Speraw’s request for an official’s challenge was denied.

Despite the attack error, Anderson had a team-high five kills in the first game.

The United States following the Volleyball Nations League will now prepare for its upcoming qualification tournament for the 2020 Olympics.