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3-0 is the Magic Number for Team USA Men’s Volleyball in VNL Play


The Chicagoland area was treated to great international men’s volleyball action this weekend as the FIVB Nations League was in town. Volleyball Nations League (VNL) is the replacement for the FIVB World League which existed since 1990. Chicago has been a host for several World League matches in the past 10 years. The World League format had two matches between USA and a visiting National Team in their pool. The VNL brings four different teams to Chicago as they play a mini-round robin format. This creates two matches each for 3 straight days. Team USA hosted Serbia, Poland and Iran this weekend with all matches being held at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, IL.



All photos courtesy of FIVB/Getty Images.


Friday Night


Friday night was the only true double match with Poland vs Iran starting at 5:30 PM immediately followed by USA vs Serbia. There was a decent crowd for both matches despite the Friday evening 5:30 start time.

Team USA started with Micah Christenson, Max Holt and Aaron Russell in the front row. Thomas Jaeschke, David Smith and Matt Anderson in the back row. USA won the toss and Matt Anderson started out serving. Anderson’s thundering serve resulted in an overpass which Christenson promptly put down. Serbia started Atanasjevic, Krsmanovic and Ivovic in the front and Kovacevic, Lisinac and Jovovic in the backrow. Both teams traded points throughout most of the match with ties at points 1 (1-1) through 20 (20-20). Neither team could distance themselves from their opponent. Finally, a Jaeschke backrow quick and a USA 3-man stuff block created a 2-point separation at 22-20. Russel closed the set with a crosscourt kill from the right side. Team USA had 15 kills (5 from Russell), 4 blocks and 1 service ace. Serbia had 12 kills, 3 blocks and no aces. Sorry but FIVB doesn’t provide the P-3 report any more so I don’t know the hitting percentages.

Set Two had both teams with the same starters dialed back one position clockwise. Serbia started with a service error and it went downhill from there. Team USA opened a 3-point lead and continued the pressure stretching it to a 5-point lead throughout most of the match. Late in the match Team USA put together a 6-point run pushing it to 22-13. A Serbia hitting error from their middle ended the set with a 25-16 USA win. Team USA had 14 kills, 3 more blocks and 3 service aces in Set Two.

Serbia started Luburic at Opposite and Podrascanin at Middle in Set Three. Unfortunately, Thomas Jaeschke came down off a double block awkwardly and hurt his left knee. After a few minutes on the floor he was helped off the court and taken directly to the locker room. He did return at the end of the match in a wheelchair. Torey DeFalco came into the match for Jaeschke and performed well including a solo stuff block on the left side. At the 15-12-mark Team USA took over with an 8-point run and quickly closed the set and match with a 25-14 win. 


Saturday Night


Saturday’s matches were split into two sessions with Iran vs Serbia at 2 PM and USA vs Poland at 7:30 PM. As expected, Team Poland’s Chicago area fans filled the stadium creating an exciting atmosphere. Unfortunately for their fans, Team Poland’s squad wasn’t quite up to the task of taking on Team USA.

Team USA kept the same lineup as Friday apart from DeFalco replacing the injured Jaeschke. Team Poland started Muzaj, Lemanski, Lomacz, Bieniek, Mika and Bednorz. USA started strong jumping to a 4-1 lead, but Poland quickly responded with their own 5 point run to go ahead 4-6. Both teams settled down and bounced back and forth with ties and one-point leads. Team USA closed out the set at 25-19 with a 3-point run including Micah Christenson’s ace for set point. Team USA had 15 kills, 3 blocks and 2 aces for Set One. Team Poland has 12 kills, 3 blocks and no aces.

Set Two had both teams with the same lineups. Poland held a 3-point lead at one point in the 1st half of the set but it was quickly lost to a USA 5-point run with USA up 16-13 at the second technical time out. Poland replaced outside hitter Mika with Szalpuk. After a couple of 2 and 3 point runs Team USA closed out Set Two 25-19. Team USA had 19 kills, 0 blocks and 3 aces. Poland had only 8 kills, 1 block and again no aces.

Set Three had the same lineups for both teams except for Poland’s outside hitter swap. Team USA finally started opening a lead 8-5 at the first technical timeout. Team Poland hung on bouncing between 2 and 3 points down for most of the match until the 17-15 mark where Team USA had another 3-point run. Aaron Russel closed out the set, match and a 3-point run with a service ace. The final set score was 25-19. Team USA had 11 kills, 2 blocks and 3 aces.


Sunday Night


Sunday’s match against Iran was the most exciting of the TEAM USA matches to watch this weekend thanks to the energetic Iran crowd. They certainly made more noise than Saturday’s Poland crowd but perhaps this was due to their team playing more competitively especially in the 1st and 3rd sets. There was lots of dancing, singing and cheering throughout the match making it a fun atmosphere to witness. USA fans are much better in participation than just ten years ago, but our visitors still seem to have the most fun.

Team USA switched out their middles tonight giving Jeff Jendryk and Dan McDonnell the nod as starters in leu of Smith and Holt. DeFalco again in place of the injured Jaeschke at outside. It was Jendryk, Russell and Anderson across the front row. Christenson, DeFalco and McDonnell in the back. Iran started Mirzajanpour, Yali and Mojarad in the front row with Shafiei, Vadi and Ghara in the back. The first set was tight throughout the match with neither team getting further than a one-point lead until Iran took a 11-13 lead on a USA hitting error. A McDonnell quick hit in the middle capped a 3-point run and took USA to a 16-15 lead at the second technical time out. Each team traded points once again. This set took extra time despite aces by Russell, DeFalco and McDonnell late in the set. McDonnell ace gave Team USA the win at 29-27. Team USA had 16 kills, 0 blocks and 6 aces in set one.

In set two USA jumped to an early 6-2 lead with great blocking leading the way. Iran started focusing their serving on DeFalco with Yali getting back to back aces during their 4-point run to tie it up at 6-6. The next few minutes had both team exchanging points with a focus on the middles hitting quick attacks and attempting to stuff each other. Hitting and service errors lead to a 16-13 Team USA lead at the second technical time out. Micah Christenson attempted two dump shots this set but was dug both times. Iran subbed Marouf in at the 23-20 mark getting a great response from the crowd. He makes some fantastic digs, but Anderson’s crushing hits proved too much. The set ended when Jendryk stuffed a quick middle attack with Team USA winning 25-20. Team USA had 10 kills, 5 blocks and 1 more ace.

The third set had the same lineup except for Iran bringing in Ghaemi for Mirzajanpour on the outside. Each team battled with ties at 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 13 and 16. Anderson and McDonnel were getting hot which helped as DeFalco struggled for a bit. Micah once again tried a setter dump shot but was stuffed. Iran was able to make the final tie score with a tool shot off the USA triple block. A Jendryk quick and a stuff block gave team USA the set and match with a score of 26-24. Team USA had 17 kills, 2 blocks and added another ace.

Overall a great weekend for Team USA in the Volleyball Nations League except for the injury to Thomas Jaeschke. There was no official word on Sunday of the extent of the injury. Team USA goes 3-0 in matches with each match going 3-0 in sets. They battle for one more weekend in Modena, Italy before finding out if they will make the final bracket round being held in Lille, France. They are in a good position to make the finals provided they don’t have a poor showing for all three matches in Italy.

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