“Exactly what you need, exactly when you need it.”
That’s the definition of clutch, per Urban Dictionary, and it fits Jeff Jendryk’s role in the USA’s five-set, come-from-behind win over Brazil (25-21, 17-25, 21-25, 25-20, 15-9) in the Volleyball Nations League semifinal perfectly.
The 23-year-old middle blocker executed a six-point serving run in the tie-breaking fifth set during which he scored an ace and picked up two digs to lead the USA to an 11-5 lead that Brazil had almost no hope of coming back from.
“I just feel amazing right now,” Jendryk said. “On those last five serves that I hit, I was being really aggressive. The guys in the front row were putting up a big screen. I was in my serve and I made it dance so it was really hard for them to pass it.”
At the end of the third set, it would have been hard to imagine that outcome. With Brazil leading 2-1 and owning all of the momentum, it looked like the USA was doomed to suffer another semifinal loss and play for bronze for the fourth time at a major tournament in the last four years.
“It is a huge win. It is a pretty emotional feeling right now for me,” setter Micah Christenson said. “We willed that through, we willed that win. I want to give a huge thank you to the crowd. They really pushed us to the victory when we needed them tonight.”
Head coach John Speraw made a couple of key substitutions midway through the third set that paid off big time. The first was inserting Jendryk, who replaced starting middle blocker David Smith.
“I went with Jeff because of his serve,” Speraw said. “David wasn’t serving the ball well tonight. Jeff gives us a little more experience in terms of how to block those guys. Obviously you saw how big that serve came up in the end.”
The second was replacing starting outside hitter Aaron Russell with Garrett Muagututia.
“Garrett has been for us all the way through VNL. … He has been there for us. He can really come in and pass the ball,” Speraw said. “We knew we needed it at that point. I thought our offensive numbers on first-ball sideout were pretty good. At one point they were better than Brazil. We just were not beating them in transition. There were times we were not passing the ball well enough to get ourselves in system. When we were system we were good.”
Muagututia had just two points, but they came at the most crucial times, and he helped calm down the USA serve receive throughout the fourth and fifth sets.
With the win, the USA advances to Sunday’s gold-medal match versus Russia, which defeated Poland in Saturday’s other semifinal. Poland and Brazil play in the bronze-medal match at 3 PM CT, while the final is scheduled for 6 PM CT.