COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (June 29, 2019) – The U.S. Men’s National Team turned things around quickly and came back from a first-set loss to beat Serbia, 14-25, 25-20, 29-27, 26-24 on Saturday in an FIVB Volleyball Nations League preliminary match in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
The U.S. Men (8-6) will conclude the VNL preliminary round against Iran (12-2) on Sunday at 7 a.m. PT. The match will be shown live on FloVolleyball.tv, a subscription service.
The U.S. Men have already qualified for the VNL Finals on July 10-14 in Chicago as the hosts. The team’s usual starters are in Anaheim, Calif., training for the finals.
On Saturday, Coach Rob Neilson started T.J. DeFalco and Garrett Muagututia at outside hitter, Jeff Jendryk and George Huhmann at middle blocker, Micah Ma’a at setter, Kyle Russell at opposite and Kyle Dagostino at libero.
After the first-set loss, it became clear that a change was needed. Neilson brought in Josh Tuaniga to set and Jake Langlois for DeFalco at outside.
“With a young group, we struggled early to find our game,” Neilson said. “Josh came in and helped organize us offensively. Jake did a great job in reception with Garrett and Kyle Dagostino.
“Our middles were dominant offensively, which helped open lanes for Kyle Russell toward the end of the match.”
The U.S. Men grabbed a 5-2 lead in the second set behind the serving of Muagututia who had a back-row kill and an ace in the run along with a kill and block by Russell and a block from Huhmann. The United States never trailed in the set.
The U.S. led the third set 18-14, but Serbia climbed back in and tied the score at 19s. Serbia took set point at 24-22. The U.S. came back to lead 25-24 on three straight Serbia errors. Serbia took set points again at 26-25 and 27-26. Two straight Serbia errors gave the U.S. set point at 28-27 and Muagututia won it with an ace.
The fourth set was close. Serbia took set point at 24-23; then committed three straight errors (one serving, two hitting) to give the U.S. the win.
“The third set was really close,” said Jeff Jendryk, who scored 12 points on 10 kills, one block and one ace. “We served really aggressively, took them out of their system and made them play against double or triple blocks. Until the end, we stayed together as a team and it paid off.”
Statistically, the teams were very close with the U.S. holding slight edges in kills (51-50), blocks (11-10) and aces (4-3). The U.S. score 33 points on Serbia errors while committing 28. The U.S. hit .382 behind Ma’a and Tuaniga. Serbia hit .336.
The U.S. got balanced scoring from five players in double figures.
Muagututia led the U.S. with 14 points on nine kills, two blocks and a match-high three aces. Russell had 13 points on 11 kills and two blocks. Langlois scored 12 points on nine kills and a team-high three blocks.
Huhmann scored 11 points on nine kills and two blocks.
U.S. STARTERS VS SERBIA
Outside hitters: T.J. DeFalco and Garrett Muagututia
Middle blockers: Jeff Jendryk and George Huhmann
Opposite: Kyle Russell
Setter: Micah Ma’a
Libero: Kyle Dagostino
Substitutes: Josh Tuaniga (S), Jake Langlois (OH), Price Jarman (MB)
U.S. STATISTICS VS SERBIA
Kills: Russell 11, Jendryk 10, Muagututia 9, Langlois 9, Huhmann 9, Tuaniga 2, DeFalco 1
Blocks: Langlois 3, Muagututia 2, Russell 2, Huhmann 2, Jendryk 1, Ma’a 1
Aces: Muagututia 3, Jendryk 1