The U.S. men’s volleyball team played better than it did in its opening match, but suffered another loss at the Olympics on Tuesday afternoon.
Two days after stumbling against Canada, Team USA fell to Italy 28-26, 20-25, 25-23, 25-23 at the Maracanazinho Arena.
“They were way better tonight (than in a 3-0 loss to Canada). I thought we were close,” U.S. coach John Speraw said in Rio after the match. “This is our journey. It is what it is. This is the team. This is what we signed up for. We knew what we were getting into four years ago and here we are. It’s a tough journey.”
The road gets even tougher for the Americans if they hope to get into medal contention, facing host nation and top-seeded Brazil at 9:30 p.m. Thursday in their next match.
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Penn State’s three alumni representatives were all in the starting lineup and did well despite the loss. Aaron Russell led the team with 22 points on 19 kills, two aces and a block. Matt Anderson added 14 points on 13 kills and an ace. Max Holt notched 12 points on a team-high four blocks and eight kills on .538 hitting.
Osman Juantorena’s 17 kills and two blocks, Ivan Zaytsev’s 13 kills, Filippo Lanza’s 12 kills and Matteo Piano’s two blocks led Italy, which hit .371. They did suffer a loss with captain Emanuele Birarelli hurting his ankle in the third set. His status for the rest of the tournament was unknown.
The U.S. just couldn’t cash in at key moments of each of the three sets it lost. The Americans fought off five set points in the first set and appeared to fight off a sixth when Russell pounded a kill out of the back row, but the officials determined his foot was on the 3-meter line and was called for an illegal attack to wrap up the set.
Errors were especially costly to the U.S. in the first, after the team posted more kills than the Italians. The U.S. finished with 17 hitting errors and 14 service errors. Holt and Anderson especially struggled from the service line with a combined nine missed serves.
The Americans had a slim lead at 17-16 in the second before a Holt block started a run to put them up for good. This time, Russell kept his feet behind the line for a back-row kill on the final point.
The teams were tied late in both the third and fourth sets, but U.S. errors helped the Italians close out both frames.
“I’m proud of the way we fought and the way we played. We’re going to keep getting better,” said U.S. setter Micah Christenson, who guided the offense to a .383 hitting day. “I think the other night was an anomaly. We’re a pretty good serving team and we rely on our serve and block defense. I thought we did a good job of that.”
With eight Olympic newcomers among the dozen on Team USA, they all must figure out how to dig out of their hole and survive.
“For them to step out on this court with the balance between the moment and the expectation while being as inexperienced as they are, it’s been a really challenging thing for a lot of our young guys,” Speraw said.