Bronze, bronze, bronze …

First it was Kerri and April on the beach.

Then the USA women went to Saturday’s bronze-medal match.

And now the USA men, who were oh-so-close to playing for gold. But a five-set thriller to what has now become a nemesis in Italy leaves the Americans also playing Russia for bronze when the next take the court on Sunday. The last time they met was July 3 in the World League and the USA won in three.

“Getting a chance to win a medal at the Olympic Games is pretty dang cool,” USA outside hitter Taylor Sander said. “We still have a chance to do that. It’s a bummer it’s not the right color but we’re going to try as hard as we can to get that third place.”

The USA had five set points in the first set, and that alone will haunt the team for a long time. And then after a record-setting victory in set three to take a 2-1 lead, well, you had to think the Americans were going to take it.

But credit Italy, which rallied from being down 22-19 in the fourth set and for taking control in the fifth to win 30-28, 26-28, 9-25, 25-22, 15-9.

Italy will play Brazil for the gold after the home team simply took Russia to the woodshed late Friday night 25-21, 25-20, 25-17.

“It’s hard for us to accept this loss because we had so many opportunities in this match,” said American captain David Lee, who was blocked to end the match.

Saturday in women’s volleyball, the USA plays for the aforementioned bronze against The Netherlands at noon Eastern. While the USA won silver in the last two Olympics, the Dutch are playing for their first medal.

When they played earlier in their pool, the USA came away with a 18-25, 25-18, 21-25, 25-20, 15-8 victory. The USA also won silver in 1984 and bronze in 1992.

David Lee hits against Simone Buti of Italy/FIVB photo
David Lee hits against Simone Buti of Italy/FIVB photo

Italy 3, USA 2

“I am disappointed but I know that my players gave everything that they could,” USA coach John Speraw said. “When you have two good teams like this, you should expect a lot of fight from both sides. I don’t think we will ever regret the way we played here.

“Italy played terrific volleyball. They are the favorites to win the gold medal match. Now we just have to regroup because it’s another tough match against one of the two great teams that will play in the next semifinal.”

From the FIVB write-up:

In an amazing performance, with rallies that really had to be seen to be believed, Italy countered USA’s prowess in blocking (16 stuffs to 7) with an exceptional serving performance of 10 aces to 5.

Ivan Zaytsev was a one-man wrecking crew/FIVB photo
Ivan Zaytsev was a one-man wrecking crew/FIVB photo

The key for Italy was Ivan Zaytsev, who was simply spectacular at times. He finished with 16 kills and five aces, all of which seemed to come at crucial moments.

His play was key when the Italians trailed 23-19 in the first with an ace and a kill and in the fourth set, he had aces at 23 and 25 to end it. In the fifth set, his back-row attack made it 8-6 and the USA never got closer than two again.

Filippo Lanza added 15 kills, and Osmany Juantorena had 12, a block and an ace.

“This was an incredible match,” Italy’s Emanuele Birarelli said. “We had a great fourth set and a great finish in the fifth set.”

Matt Anderson led the USA with 18 kills, Aaron Russell had 14 and Max Holt 10. Holt also had six blocks and Lee five, while Anderson served all five of the American aces.

“Italy served a lot of aces that’s why they won,” Lee said. “They are a great serving team and can keep themselves in matches just from the service line. They can earn a lot of points from that area and that can make a lot of difference in a match.

“There were obviously highs and lows in this match. We were on such a high in the third and fourth sets, then we had a little low energy towards the end, and they took advantage of that.”

The Italians, who won Pool A in the Olympics, beat the USA in the World League last month and then in pool play in Rio.

“The great thing is we still have a chance to leave here with a medal, so that’s what we’re going to do,” Holt said. “We’re going to regroup. We’re going to come back and we’re going to battle like we’ve done in this tournament, be ready to go for bronze.”


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