The USA men after beating Italy in the semifinals/Volleyball World photo

The Great Wall of Polska.

Poland had just one more block than the USA, but they seemed to come at key moments Sunday, especially on match point, when Jakub Kochanoweki stuffed the attack by Thomas Jaeschke to give his team the Volleyball Nations League gold medal.

It capped a 25-23, 24-26, 25-18, 25-18 home victory over the Americans before a sold-out crowd of more than 11,000 in Gdansk, Poland. It was Poland’s first gold in the five-year history of VNL.

Poland finished 13-2 in a tournament that began with the women’s first round on May 30. The USA men played three rounds, in Ottawa, Canada; Rotterdam, Netherlands; and Anaheim, California, compiling a record of 10-2. In the quarterfinals Wednesday, the knocked out France in five, and in Saturday’s semifinals swept Italy. 

Japan (12-3) beat Italy (10-5) in four sets in the bronze-medal match.

Poland overpowers USA

“We’re quite disappointed because we had a nice opportunity to win VNL and came up short,” USA coach John Speraw said.

“I do think there were a lot of positives to build on over the course of the tournament and a lot to be learned from tonight’s match. It’s good to be in championship matches. You learn so much from every playoff run and I think this team learned that we’re very capable of winning tournaments and that we have a lot of room to improve.”

Opposite Lukasz Kaczmarek, in for injured team captain Bartosz Kurek, in led his team with 23 kills, a block and an ace. Aleksander Sliwka had 13 kills, six digs and a block, and Kochanowski added four kills and an ace. Tomasz Fornal had seven kills and a block and Wilfredo Leon had three kills, two blocks and two aces. 

Poland led in kills (59-51), blocks (9-8) and aces (7-3). 

“Poland played great. Kaczmarek had an incredible match and we couldn’t figure out how to stop him,” Speraw said. “It’s frustrating, but at the end of the day he played great.

“And they served the ball really, really well. Offensively they were difficult to slow down.”

TJ DeFalco led the USA with 13 kills, an ace and seven digs. Aaron Russell had nine kills and two blocks and Matt Anerson had nine kills and an ace.

Jaeschke had seven kills, two blocks and five digs, and Max Holt had four kills and three blocks. David Smith had six kills.

The USA also lost in last year’s VNL final to France.

Next up the USA is the host for the NORCECA Championship from September 3-11.

“We’ll evaluate and train as we head into NORCECA,” Speraw said.

Then at the end of the month, the Americans go to Japan to compete in the Pool B of the Road to Paris Olympic qualifier, where they will face the hosts, Slovenia, Serbia, Türkiye, Tunisia, Egypt and Finland.

Poland goes to the European Championship in Bulgaria, Israel, Italy and North Macedonia from August 18-26.

Japan captures bronze

Japan won the first two sets, Italy rallied, and then Japan came away with a 25-18, 25-23, 17-25, 17-25, 15-9 victory. 

It was a typical match for scrappy Japan, outblocked 13-4. Japan had a 54-53 kills advantage and a 9-7 lead in aces.

Yuki Ishikaway capped a fantastic VNL for him with 21 kills. Kento Miyaura, in at opposite for injured Yuji Nishida, had 12 kills, a block and a whopping seven aces. Ran Takahashi had 11 kills and a block. Akihiro Yamauchi had seven kills, two blocks and and an ace.

This was Japan’s first medal in the 5-year-old tournament and its first in an international tournament since 2009 when it won bronze in the FIVB Grand Champions Cup.

Italy’s Yuri Romano had 14 kills and a block. Alessandro Michieletto had 11 kills, a block and four aces, and Daniele Lavia had 11 kills and three blocks. Roberto Russo added eight kills and three blocks and Gianluca Galassi had three kills, five blocks and an ace.

Japan plays next in the Asian Championship, August 18-26 in Iran.

Italy plays the same week as the host for the European Championship.

Japan celebrates winning VNL bronze/Volleyball World photo


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