The U.S. men’s volleyball team could not have picked a better team against which to turn its fortunes.
A trio of Penn State alumni are a big reason for the startling victory.
With Matt Anderson and Aaron Russell leading the way, the Americans upset the world’s No. 1 team, host Brazil, for the team’s first win at the Olympics.
Team USA won 25-20, 25-23, 20-25, 25-20 at Maracanazinho Arena to improve to 1-2 in the tournament and snap a four-match losing skid to the Brazilians in international play.
“When you’re playing against an entire crowd that’s against you, 95 percent of the crowd’s against you, if you can get them to be quiet, it’s a hell of a feeling,” Anderson said in Brazil after the late match.
With two matches remaining in their schedule in Pool A, the Americans are very much back in the hunt to make the quarterfinal knockout round.
The U.S. opened the tournament with a 3-0 loss to Canada, a stunning defeat that prompted a players-olny meeting and more individual sessions with players and coaches. They played better two days later in a 3-1 loss to Italy.
“We’re like a family, so there’s nothing that can’t be said between each other. We hear the message not the words,” Anderson said. “It’s a huge lesson in knowing that we can come back, even against one of the best teams, if not the best team in this tournament.”
The match was filled with highlights and incredible, emotional play on both sides.
Leading the way for the U.S. were Anderson and Russell. Anderson, one of just four on the roster with Olympic experience, had a match-high 24 points on 23 kills and an ace.
“There’s like this look that he gets and some of the celebrations,” said U.S. libero Erik Shoji, who had plenty of sprawling, highlight-worthy plays of his own to keep balls alive in the back row. “I can’t really describe it but you just know if you feed him the ball and he gets a kill, he starts rolling.”
Russell was right behind with 19 points on 17 kills, a block and an ace. The third Nittany Lion in the starting lineup, Max Holt, added two kills, two blocks and an ace.
Setter Micah Christenson had a big night from the service line, with four of the team’s nine aces. The U.S. also won the blocking battle 9-6, paced by three from Taylor Sander.
Wallace de Souza’s 13 kills and Lucas Saatkamp’s eight kills and four blocks led the Brazilians in the memorable match.
“We play our best volleyball when our backs are against the wall,” U.S. captain David Lee said. “We proved it again tonight. ... This was probably the hardest we’ve fought, I think our team has ever fought. That’s some of the best defense I’ve ever seen.”
The U.S. will meet France at 4 p.m. Saturday, then close pool play against Mexico, with Penn State alumni Carlos Guerra on the court and assistant coach Ivan Contrares, on Monday.