CHICAGO, Ill. (July 12, 2019) – The U.S. Men’s National Team didn’t know what to expect from Russia on Friday in the final pool play match of the 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League Final.
Both teams had already qualified for Saturday’s semifinals. Would they play their starters or use the bench?
Russia started its bench players while the U.S. went with seven Olympians and the difference showed as the U.S. won 25-21, 25-17, 25-20 at Credit Union 1 Arena.
The U.S. Men will play Brazil at 8 p.m. on Saturday at Credit Union 1 Arena. Russia will face Poland at 5 p.m.
“That’s the first time I’ve played against those players ever,” U.S. setter Micah Christenson said. “It was fun to get used to it and get ready in case we see them again. I thought we did great. I thought we adapted really well to the Russian pressure.”
The U.S. Men led in kills (41-30), blocks (12-7) and aces (5-0). The U.S. hitting efficiency was 54.7 behind Christenson while Russia’s was 41.1.
U.S. outside hitter Thomas Jaeschke led all scorers with 13 points on 11 kills, one block and one ace in his third start of the 2019 VNL. Jaeschke, who grew up in the Chicago area, is still working his way back from a torn ACL suffered during the 2018 VNL.
“It’s day-to-day how my knee feels, depending on what I did the day before,” Jaeschke said. “It’s more mental hurdles, I would say. Like, I’ll hit a ball and land on my left, which is how I injured it. I won’t think about it, but I’ll realize it a second later. That’s something to keep in my head and make me feel better.”
“Everybody’s pulling for him,” U.S. Head Coach John Speraw said of Jaeschke. “I thought he did a great job tonight just getting comfortable out there.”
The U.S. serving and blocking clearly frustrated the young Russian squad. Middle blocker Max Holt, who left the match in the middle of the second set for Jeff Jendryk, had three blocks. Jendryk, another Chicago area native, had two.
The U.S. knows Saturday’s match will be much tougher as it works to improve on its bronze-medal performance of 2018.
“I think they’ve done a great job this summer through VNL,” Speraw said. “Obviously adding a couple new pieces. It’s great to see Lucarelli back on the court. I know we’re in for a really big battle. They were tested tonight (in a 3-2 win over Iran). They’re going to be pretty sharp and ready for that type of a volleyball match. We’ll have to be incredibly prepared.”
STARTERS FOR THE U.S. MEN VS RUSSIA
Outside hitters: Taylor Sander and Thomas Jaeschke
Middle blockers: Max Holt and David Smith
Opposite: Matt Anderson
Setter: Micah Christenson
Libero: Erik Shoji
Substitutes: Ben Patch (Opp), Kawika Shoji (S), Jeff Jendryk (MB), George Huhmann (MB), Garrett Muagututia (OH)
STATISTICS FOR U.S. Men VS RUSSIA
Kills: Jaeschke 11, Anderson 7, Muagututia 5, Smith 5, Sander 3, Patch 3, Holt 2, Jendryk 2, Christenson
Blocks: Holt 3, Jendryk 2, Christenson 2, Jaeschke 1, Anderson 1, Smith 1, Sander 1, Patch 1
Aces: Jaeschke 1, Jendryk 1, Muagututia 1, Sander 1, K Shoji 1