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USA men finish VNL 8-7 after tough loss to Slovenia, sweeps of Bulgaria, Japan

The USA men finished the Volleyball Nations League on a winning note Wednesday by sweeping Japan to finish the FIVB competition in Rimini, Italy, with a record of 8-7.

The Americans landed in seventh place in the last major international competition before next month’s Tokyo Olympics.

The USA played five batches of three matches each. In the final three, they lost in five to Slovenia, but swept Bulgaria and Japan. 

“It’s more for pride, for us to end the tournament on a high note and to play good volleyball is always good,” USA setter Micah Christenson said after the Japan victory. 

“We stayed focused through the whole game, they put a lot of pressure on us with their serve and we never panicked. We were always confident and able to come back.”

Japan, of course, is in as the host team for the Olympics. The Americans will return home, regroup, and head to Tokyo for the Games that start July 23.

Friday’s semifinals were set after Wednesday’s action and first-place Brazil (13-2) will play France (11-4, tied with Russia but France narrowly won the tiebreaker) and Poland (12-3) faces Slovenia (12-3).

Thursday, the USA women play Turkey in one women’s semifinal, while Brazil faces Japan in the other.

The USA men took a tough 30-28, 19-25, 25-20, 26-28, 13-15 defeat when they played Slovenia, which got 25 kills from Klemen Cebulj, 16 from Tine Urnaut, and 15 from Toncek Stern.

Taylor Sander led the Americans with 16 kills and hit .363 and he had four blocks and seven digs. TJ DeFalco had 15 kills and 12 digs.

Max Holt had nine kills, five digs, and two blocks. Matt Anderson had eight kills and Kyle Ensing had five kills. Micah Christenson had 42 assists and seven digs. Erik Shoji had nine digs.

Click here for USA-Slovenia highlights.

They bounced back with a 25-19, 26-24, 25-9 sweep of Bulgaria as coach John Speraw went to his bench. Garrett Muagututia led with 13 kills and hit .478 to go with six digs. Kyle Ensing had eight kills and six digs, Thomas Jaeschke had seven kills, nine digs, and two blocks, and Jeff Jendryk had six kills and four blocks.

“It was a tough loss yesterday, especially going five sets,” Jendryk said. “A lot of the guys were tired so the guys who weren’t playing yesterday wanted to come in today and show the hard work they’ve put in.”

Mitch Stahl had three aces and Erik Shoji had eight digs. Jake Hanes, not on the Olympic roster, had two kills in the third set. Kawika Shoji set and had 22 assists and three digs.

Click here for USA-Bulgaria highlights.

The USA beat Japan 25-21, 25-23, 25-20.

Muagututia led with 12 kills with one error in 16 attacks. Matt Anderson had 11 kills with one error in 19 swings and had five digs. DeFalco had 11 kills and hit .400 to go with four blocks. Holt had six kills with no errors in seven attacks.

Micah Christenson had 22 assists and nine digs.

Click here for USA-Japan highlights.

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USA men after beating Japan and closing out the VNL/FIVB photo