The USA men’s national team had already earned its spot in the Volleyball Nations League semifinals, regardless of what happened in Friday night’s final-round pool-play match versus Russia.
Russia had also secured advancement and therefore chose to rest its usual starters. The U.S. men, however, after using a variety of lineups and rosters throughout the five weeks of preliminary play, needed reps together out on the floor more than they needed rest.
Starting a group of veterans and Olympians, the USA defeated Russia’s young lineup in straight sets 25-21, 25-17, 25-20 to win the pool and set up a meeting with Brazil in Saturday’s semifinals.
“We haven’t had a ton of time together with this group, so I wanted them out on the court tonight and play a little more together,” USA coach John Speraw said. “I think they clicked a lot more efficiently (than Wednesday’s win over France).”
Outside hitter Thomas Jaeschke, the only player who started Friday but didn’t start on Wednesday, taking the place of Aaron Russell in the lineup, posted a match-high 13 points on 11 kills, one block, and one ace in just his third start of the 2019 VNL.
Jaeschke, a Chicagoan who played at Loyola, tore his ACL during last year’s VNL tournament and is still on his way back to 100 percent.
“It’s day-to-day how my knee feels, depending on what I did the day before,” Jaeschke said after the match. “It’s more mental hurdles, I would say.”
With the USA up 1-0 and holding a commanding lead in the second, Speraw started to utilize some of the guys off the bench. He continued to filter in substitutions for the remainder of the match, eventually giving every guy on the roster a chance at some playing time, with the exception of Aaron Russell, who was chosen to wear the second libero jersey for the match.
Saturday’s first semifinal starts at 5 p.m. Central and features Poland taking on Russia. The USA versus Brazil is scheduled for 8 p.m.