U.S. block overwhelms France to win opener at Volleyball Nations League Finals

Photo courtesy of the FIVB

Very little was getting past middle attacker Max Holt.

The former Penn State All-American finished with a match-high eight blocks as the United States defeated France 25-16, 25-22, 23-25, 25-21 in its pool-player opener at the FIVB Volleyball Nations League Finals on Wednesday in Chicago.

The United States out-blocked France 16 to 5 in the victory to move within one match of clinching a berth to the semifinals. Four U.S. starters contributed at least one block led by its middle attackers Holt and David Smith, who had four blocks.

Along with his defensive performance, Holt added seven kills on a 63.63 percent offensive efficiency and a team-high two aces against France.

This was the fifth match that Holt started in the Volleyball Nations League this year. The 2016 Olympian was among the many traditional starters that the United States opted to rest during the preliminary round in part because it had an automatic berth to the Finals as the host nation.

Two other members of that 2016 U.S. Olympic bronze medal team ended this Finals match with double-digit kills and more than a 50 percent offensive efficiency.

Former Penn State All-American outside attacker Aaron Russell had a team-high 13 kills while hitting a 54.17 percent offensive efficiency and added two blocks. In addition, former BYU All-American outside attacker Taylor Sander contributed 12 kills on a 54.55 percent offensive efficiency.

Opposite Jean Patry in the loss led France with 17 kills. He also was the French player to have more than six kills against the United States.

The United States finished with nine aces — five more aces than France.

Every U.S. starter, excluding libero Erik Shoji, had at least one ace. Along with Holt, both setter Micah Christenson and opposite Matt Anderson had two aces.

The United States will play Russia on Friday in its pool-play finale. However, the United States could clinch one of the two semifinal berths from the three-team pool before its match versus Russia.

Russia and France will play each other on Thursday, while the United States has an off day. A Russian victory or French win in five games would secure a spot in the semifinals for the United States.