The U.S. men’s volleyball team had its dreams of a gold medal dashed Friday afternoon by Italy.
Instead, the Americans will have to settle for bronze at best.
The Italians fought back to win their Olympic semifinal at Maracanazinho Arena 30-28, 26-28, 9-25, 25-22, 15-9 in a 2 1/2-hour marathon.
Italy will play for the gold medal Sunday against Brazil, while the U.S. will hit the court for the bronze medal match at 8 a.m. Sunday against Russia.
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“The great thing is we still have a chance to leave here with a medal, so that’s what we’re going to do,” former Penn State All-American and U.S. middle blocker Max Holt said on teamusa.org. “We’re going to regroup. We’re going to come back and we’re going to battle like we’ve done in this tournament, be ready to go for bronze.”
The loss was much like the U.S. women the day before, falling in five sets to Serbia to leave them in the bronze medal match.
“I have all the faith in our guys to fight and be tough through this match,” said U.S. outside hitter Matt Anderson, another former Nittany Lion. “Of course, there’s going to be a little disappointment with this setback for the next couple of hours here, but we’re all in this together. Our goal was gold. We can’t have it right now. Our goal now is bronze.”
Team USA was paced by its three Penn State starters in the loss. Anderson led everyone with 25 points on 18 kills, five aces and two blocks. Aaron Russell added 14 kills and eight digs, and Holt had an all-around day with 10 kills and six blocks.
David Lee recorded five blocks and Erik Shoji posted 13 digs for the U.S., which did not medal in the 2012 Olympics but won gold in 2008.
The Italians were paced by Ivan Zaytsev’s 16 kills and five aces, Filippo Lanzi’s 15 kills and Osmany Juantorena’s dozen kills.
The first two sets both went into extra time.
The Americans led the first 15-8 and had five set points denied by Italy. Conversely, Italy was up 21-19 in the second only to see the U.S. rally, spurred by four straight U.S. points from Holt — three on blocks and one on a kill. On the third set point for Team USA, Anderson delivered an ace to level the match.
The U.S. dominated the third, putting down 14 kills on just 18 swings, and adding in four blocks, and in the fourth held a 22-19 lead after a Russell kill. Italy then stormed back, knotting the frame on an Anderson hitting error before Zaytsev wrapped up the set with three straight aces.
“The fourth set, we’ve got to be tougher and close that out,” U.S. outside hitter Taylor Sander said. “That’s hard to deal with. … Gosh, that’s going to make us stronger for sure.”
Italy took the lead at 7-6 of the fifth and never relented, capitalizing on U.S. miscues to build the lead. The toughest moment was a huge serve from Holt that came back as an overpass, but Russell let the ball drop, thinking it was out.
But it instead landed just inside the sideline for a 13-9 lead. Italy closed the win on a Simone Buti block of a Lee swing.
“I know that my players gave it everything that they could today,” U.S. coach John Speraw said. “I couldn’t ask any more. When you have two good teams like this, it’s just a little play here and a little play there. We may look back on some of those plays with regret, but I don’t think we will ever regret how hard we worked.”