COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Sept. 22, 2018) – The U.S. Men’s National Team continued to barnstorm through the FIVB World Championship, beating host Bulgaria on Saturday, 25-20, 25-20, 25-18 in Sofia.

The victory qualified the U.S. Men (7-0) as one of the six teams for the World Championship final six on Sept. 26-30 in Turin, Italy. In the last World Championship in 2014, the U.S. just missed making the final round when it lost in five sets to Argentina.

“It feels incredible,” U.S. libero Erik Shoji said. “Four years ago, we were so close; one step away from making the final six. We’ve made it now. We can relax. But we have Iran tomorrow, so we have to get ready again.”

The U.S. Men are the lone undefeated team left in the World Championship as Russia beat Italy on Saturday. That U.S. Men will play Iran (4-3) at 7 a.m. PT on Sunday. All matches are being shown live on, a subscription service chosen by the FIVB. They are having a 20 percent discount this month.

On Bulgaria’s Independence Day, the U.S. Men led the Europeans in kills (42-22), blocks (6-3) and aces (6-5). Bulgaria scored 28 points on U.S. errors while committing 21.

The U.S. kill percentage behind setter Micah Christenson was 60 percent. Bulgaria’s was .324.

“We have some great servers,” Shoji said. “We’ve been up and down in this tournament, but tonight was great. We put them out of system a lot and we converted a lot of those points.”

Shoji even scored a point with a dig.

Outside hitter Aaron Russell led all scorers with 16 points on a match-high 15 kills and one ace. Outside hitter Taylor Sander totaled 12 points on 10 kills, one block and one ace. Opposite Matt Anderson added 11 points on nine kills, one block and one ace.

Middle blocker David Smith scored eight points on five kills, a team-high two aces and one block. Middle blocker Max Holt had four points on a match-high two blocks and two kills. Christenson finished with three points on one kill, one block and one ace.

None of Bulgaria’s players scored in double figures.

“The Americans were like Monstars from Space Jam,” Bulgaria’s Valentin Bratoev said. “We didn’t have Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan. Physically they are on another level. These guys jump half a meter above us.”

Although Sunday’s match against Iran will not impact their status, Shoji said the U.S. Men would not take their feet off the gas.

“Whoever is on the court is going to go 100 percent,” he said. “That’s just our style. Whoever is there, I am confident we can take the match as well.”

The U.S. didn’t struggle in the match until the third set when it fell behind, 12-10. The U.S. Men scored to give Christenson the serve. On the next play, Christenson ran off the court to make a save, then made it back to set Russell for a successful back-row attack that tied the score. A block gave the U.S. the lead, which it later increased to 16-13 on Sander’s serving run.

Outside hitters: Taylor Sander and Aaron Russell
Middle blockers: Max Holt and David Smith
Opposite: Matt Anderson
Setter: Micah Christenson
Libero: Erik Shoji
Substitute: Dan McDonnell (MB)

Kills: Russell 15, Sander 10, Anderson 9, Smith 5, Holt 2, Christenson 1
Blocks: Holt 2, Sander 1, Smith 1, Christenson 1, Anderson 1
Aces: Smith 2, Anderson 1, Sander 1, Russell 1, Christenson 1