With Max Holt delivering nearly untouchable serves from the back line, the U.S. men’s volleyball team locked up a berth in the Olympic quarterfinals.
The Americans overcame a slow start to sweep Mexico 25-23, 25-11, 25-19 at the Maracanazinho Arena on Monday.
The U.S. finishes play in Pool A with a 3-2 record, though the team will have to wait until the end of the day to know who and when they play next. Team USA can finish anywhere from second to fourth, depending on the rest of Monday’s matches. A fourth-place finish will lead to a meeting with Pool B winner Argentina in the quarters. A draw will be used to determine matches involving second- and third-place teams.
The match featured a sizable Penn State reunion on the court, with Holt, Matt Anderson and Aaron Russell all starting for the U.S., Carlos Guerra starting for Mexico and Ivan Contreras an assistant coach for Mexico.
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Holt, who remains the Nittany Lions’ career aces record-holder, served up five aces Monday to go with five kills and a block. The U.S. racked up an 8-0 margin in aces as a team.
“I think behind the service line I keep getting in the same place (mentally),” Holt told teamusa.org after the match. “I just focus and center on my target then toss it and rip it.”
Russell also posted five kills, but Anderson, who had been on fire the last few matches, struggled with no kills and got pulled from the lineup in the first set.
Going in Anderson’s place at opposite was Murphy Troy, who saw his first action of the Olympics and posted a match-high 10 kills to go with two blocks.
“The conversation (before the match) was that we’ve had these amazing last few games and now is not the time to slow it down. Now is the time to pick it up,” Troy said. “Keep our same intensity. Keep our focus… We didn’t want to lose a single point or a single set today.”
Taylor Sander added eight kills and Micah Christenson gave out 32 running sets.
Guerra recorded a team-high seven kills for Mexico, which was outblocked 9-1 and was already eliminated from making the quarterfinals.
It was a triumphant win for the U.S., which was sporting just four players on the 12-man roster with Olympic experience.
Reid Priddy, in his fourth Olympics, has enjoyed how much progress the youthful team has made in the last nine days, which began with a 3-0 loss to Canada and 3-1 loss to Pool A champion Italy.
“The enormity of the Olympic Games requires a 24-hour learning curve. We’ve been able to respond after those first two matches,” the 38-year-old Priddy said. “In fact, I think it put us right in the mentality of where we need to be. ...
“We’re almost more prepared now to face this quarterfinal match than we would have been had we swept 5-0.”