TJ DeFalco goes over the top of the French triple block/Volleyball World photo

An old rivalry was something else for the old guy.

Matt Anderson, the 36-year-old USA opposite, led the Americans to a 25-21, 25-18, 17-25, 24-26, 15-9 victory over France on Wednesday in the Volleyball Nations League quarterfinals in Gdansk, Poland.

“We showed really good emotional strength to have a lead, give it up and then come back in the fifth set,” USA coach John Speraw said.

Anderson had 20 kills and two aces to go with seven digs as the USA moved into Saturday’s quarterfinals against Italy, which swept Argentina.

The quarterfinals continue Thursday when Japan plays Slovenia and Poland plays Brazil.

“We started off the first two sets playing fantastic defense,” Speraw said. “I think the combination of our serve and defensive game, we never gave them an opportunity to get into the match.”

Indeed, it was all USA at the beginning against a team it lost to in last year’s VNL final and swept in the first round this year.

“But then in the third set, they started serving better and we weren’t passing quite as well to let our offense to go as well as it had been going. That allowed them to feel a little more confidence and be able to push it to five,” Speraw said.

“I thought at the end of the fourth set we started playing more like our normal side-out rhythm of our offense. In the fifth set we made a series of really good defensive plays, especially on one quick attacks. That got us back in the set and we finished strong.”

The USA (11-2), which lost to France in last year’s VNL final, got 14 kills and two blocks from Thomas Jaeschke, and TJ DeFalco had 10 kills and two blocks. 

Max Holt had six kills, two blocks and an ace, Averill Taylor had five kills and a block, and David Smith had two kills, a block and an ace.

Trevor Clevenot hits against the USA block of Micah Christenson and David Smith/Volleyball World photo

Setter Micah Christenson had an ace and a team-high 12 digs. Erik Shoji had 10 digs.

“It got really close during the entire match,” Christenson said. “It went to the tie-breaker and I’m glad we were able to pull away. 

“It was huge for us. It was very similar to last season in the sense that the quarterfinals were really tough. To be able to go through a battle like this and move along, it really serves us well. This top eight is probably the best in the history of the VNL. These matchups are incredible and it’s going to be a fun week of volleyball.”

Jean Patry led France (6-7) with 13 kills, two blocks and two aces. Barthelemy Chinenyeze had 10 kills, five blocks and an ace. Nicolas Le Goff had 11 kills, two blocks and an ace, and Kevin Tillie, who played for Speraw at UC Irvine when they won an NCAA title, had 11 kills and a team-best 13 digs.

The same teams played 10 days earlier in the third round at Anaheim and the USA swept. In this match, the USA led in kills 61-58 and France led in blocks 11-8 and aces 6-5.

Italy sweeps Argentina 

Italy (10-3) crushed Argentina 25-17, 25-13, 25-14 as Alessandro Michieletto led a balanced attack with 13 kills, a block and an ace. Danile Lavia had 11 kills and a block and Yuri Romano had 10 kills and a block. Roberto Russo had four kills, three blocks and three aces.

Italy had advantages in kills (44-26), blocks (9-4) and aces (5-2). 

Argentina’s Agustin Loser had seven kills, two blocks and an ace.

“We played very, very well tonight,” Michieletto said. “We were ready for a very difficult match because Argentina had been playing very well in the VNL, but they missed two players due to injury. 

“But we remained focused the entire time because this match was very important for us. It’s a big arena and I think we adjusted well to it. USA are a very good team too, it’s going to be a battle, but we’re ready for it.”

The USA swept Italy in their first-round VNL meeting, June 8 in Ottawa, Canada.

The USA after beating France/Volleyball World photo


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