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Speraw leads Team USA to quarter finals in FIVB Volleyball Nations League

Team USA gathers for a picture featuring the players and training staff. UCLA’s coach John Speraw (far left) has led the squad to the No. 1 position in the Volleyball Nations League as the knockout stages begin. (Courtesy of Volleyball Nations League)

Men's Volleyball

No. 1 USA3
No. 13 Cuba0
No. 1 USA2
No. 5 Argentina3
No. 1 USA3
No. 8 France0
No. 1 USA3
No. 15 Bulgaria0

By Anthony Aroyan

July 13, 2023 12:21 p.m.

Correction: The original version of a photo caption in this article misidentified Matt Anderson as Aaron Russell.

This post was updated July 20 at 10:33 p.m.

Trials tested the Americans last week as UCLA men’s volleyball coach John Speraw spearheaded the national team.

Returning to the sunny shores of Southern California, No. 1 USA men’s volleyball underwent a series of new challenges in its 2023 FIVB Volleyball Men’s Nations League campaign. In the third and final week of pool play, Speraw’s squad dropped just one game to Argentina to secure a 3-1 record.

Speraw noted the unique yet familiar environment Anaheim presented, being close to friends and family as well as the Bruin faithful.

“It was great to be home and play in front of family and friends for the first time in quite some time,” Speraw said. “I did see some Bruin fans and alumni in the stands. In general, the Southern California volleyball fans and community came out to support.”

Team USA opened the proceedings at the Anaheim Convention Center, where a tussle with No. 13 Cuba saw overtime in just the first set. A spike by opposite/outside hitter Matt Anderson proved to be the difference maker in securing the first set and eventually the match.

Anderson joined outside hitter Aaron Russell for a team-high nine kills, notching four service aces along the way.

(Courtesy of Volleyball Nations League)
Opposite/outside hitter Matt Anderson swings for a kill. His nine kills and four service aces in the first game of week three were crucial in securing the game one victory. (Courtesy of Volleyball Nations League)

Following the win against Cuba, the squad faced its two biggest challenges of the tournament, going up against two top-10 ranked opponents. Matches against both then-No. 7 Argentina and then-No. 5 France proved to be tight affairs, with the former handing the Americans their second VNL loss.

Chasing one another in a back-and-forth contest ultimately culminated in a climactic final set. The fourth frame, in which Argentina emerged victorious in a 41-43 fashion, was the longest of the tournament. A clutch Argentine block concluded a 50-minute-long penultimate frame and put the team in position to settle the game in their favor.

Speraw said the marathon match was an important learning experience for Team USA.

“There’s quite a bit we learned from that match because we played so many points and it was tight the entire match,” Speraw said. “It really forced us to try and figure out how we won and lost every single point.”

Despite the defeat, the Americans rallied back to close out their final two matches of the preliminary phase. Facing a French team on a two-win streak, Speraw sought to counter the posession-heavy French philosophy.

France out-set the Americans 90-77, but Speraw’s players were able to play physically, forcing errors and getting blocks to earn points.

Although all three sets were each decided by just two points, Team USA managed to sweep their then-No. 5 ranked opponent. This and two overtime sets proved the French matchup to be one of the tightest for the Americans so far.

(Courtesy of Volleyball Nations League)
The Americans celebrate after sweeping the French. After a close battle throughout each set, Team USA managed to secure the win against a then top-5 ranked team. (Courtesy of Volleyball Nations League)

Speraw said the contest represented the uncertainty and “any given Sunday” nature of volleyball.

“That’s what happens against great teams. The margins are so slim,” Speraw said. “It really does come down to one swing. One night we did not get it, and one night we did. We know that when we play France again, it will probably come down to one swing again.”

Following the final round of pool play, the U.S. stands atop the VNL standings and has secured a spot in the knockout stage in Gdansk, Poland.

Speraw and his team will continue their VNL run as they face France once again in the quarter finals on July 19 at 5 p.m. local time.

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Anthony Aroyan
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