Rally by USA men against France falls just short in VNL semifinals

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French captain Benjamin Toniutti and coach Laurent Tillie celebrate their win over the USA/FIVB photo

They’ll play for bronze Sunday in Lille, France.

That’s because host France held off the USA men 25-17, 25-17, 23-25, 24-26, 15-13 in Saturday’s first semifinal of the Volleyball Nations League Final Six.

The Americans will face Brazil for bronze at 11 a.m. Eastern, followed by Russia vs. France for gold. Both matches can be seen on FloVolleyball.tv. In their only meeting in the VNL, Brazil beat the USA in four on June 3 in Brazil.

Stephen Boyer had an incredible match for France, leading with 25 kills in 38 swings to go with three blocks and three aces.

“I think among all our qualities — physical, technical, mental — the one that made us win tonight is the mental,” French coach Laurent Tillie said. “After losing the fourth set, you can tend to fall apart, but my players remained mentally strong through to the end. Obviously the crowd helped us out as well.

“The Americans changed their lineup after two sets, adapting to our volleyball. It was hard for us to control them then, but with an incredible Boyer and the ‘French feeling,’ we got the win.”

Matt Anderson — moved from left side to opposite after two sets — led the USA with 22 kills and an ace. Taylor Sander had 18 kills, a block and an ace. Aaron Russell added 10 kills, three blocks and two aces and Max Holt had eight kills and three blocks.

“We got better as the match progressed, and obviously we have some great flexibility with the players that we have, and Matt did a great job,” USA coach John Speraw said. “These matches help us learn a lot about our guys.

“We’ll just have to go back and evaluate and keep getting better. I’m looking forward to train now. The hardest thing with the VNL is that you get so little practice time. That’s frustrating, so we’ll get in the gym with the guys now in order to try and be better.”

“We felt we battled, we fought all day,” USA setter Micah Christenson said. “It wasn’t the most pretty volleyball from either side. I mean they played well in the first two sets and I thought we responded well. We just got too far behind in the fifth; that’s the way it goes.

“I hope everybody enjoyed that match. We’re gonna learn a lot from it. Now we have an opportunity to win a medal and we’re gonna put our focus on to that game.”

France got 11 kills from Earvin Ngapeth, who had an ace. Kevin LeRoux had five kills and four blocks and Nicolas Le Goff had seven kills and two blocks.

France’s team also includes Laurent’s son, Kevin, who starred for Speraw as they won back-to-back NCAA titles at UC Irvine in 2012 and 2013. Tillie didn’t start but finished with four kills, a block and an ace.

“Of course I was a bit frustrated not to play before, but Thibault (Rossard, who had seven kills and two aces) played extremely well so we were here to support everybody,” Kevin Tillie said. “But when I got on the court, I put in what I could and we won as a team.

“The crowd boosts you. That’s so cool. I was happy to play against the USA, against my former coach. Happy to have won.”

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