The Tokyo Olympics men’s volleyball quarterfinals are set and for the first time since Sydney in 2000, the USA is on the outside looking in.
The four matches Tuesday have Canada vs. ROC, Japan vs. Brazil, Italy vs. Argentina, and Poland vs. France.
USA coach John Speraw teared up when talking to NBC’s Heather Cox after his team was swept by Argentina and ousted from the tournament.
“It’s hard. It’s been a tough year,” Speraw said as he completed his second Olympiad. “A tough 18 months, and to get here, gosh, I wish we played better volleyball but we didn’t. They played hard at the end and that’s what I told them.
“It just wasn’t meant to be.”
Argentina won 25-21, 25-23, 25-23.
“We didn’t pass the ball very well, and I haven’t worried about passing with this team in years,” said Speraw, who took over as the national-team head coach in 2013 after he left UC Irvine to coach at his alma mater, UCLA. “I don’t know. Obviously our serving wasn’t great and serving and passing are the two most important things in winning volleyball matches. We all know that and this was not a great tournament for us in those regards.
“Two matches in a row we gave up too many aces and too many opportunities. At this moment I don’t have an explanation for it. We’ll just have to go back and reflect and try to do better next time.”
While the USA had one ace and 14 service errors, Argentina has seven aces with 11 errors.
“They passed the ball really well, and they are good at creating solutions out of nothing,” USA setter Micah Christenson said. “Their attackers are pretty special. So it was hard to get another run and even when we did, they stick close.”
The Americans swept France in their first match on July 24, but then lost in four to ROC 25-23, 27-25, 21-25, 25-23 in a match with clearly the smallest of margins. They went four to beat winless Tunisia, and then lost to Brazil 30-32, 25-23, 25-21, 25-20.
“It’s heartbreaking. We worked really hard for this, delayed another year to work as hard as we could for this, and this isn’t the way we wanted to finish,” Christenson said.
“Just a lot of work, a lot of hard times, and beautiful times but all leading up to this. It’s not what we wanted to get, not how we wanted it. We had a goal to achieve so it hurts.”
This team had two three-time Olympians in opposite Matt Anderson and middle David Smith, and six second-timers in Christenson, the other setter Kawika Shoji, middle Max Holt, libero Erik Shoji, and outsides Thomas Jaeschke and Taylor Sander.
There were four newcomers in opposite Kyle Ensing, outsides TJ DeFalco and Garrett Muagututia, and middle Mitch Stahl.
The Americans went 8-7 and finished seventh in the FIVB Volleyball Nations League in June, the last international tournament before the Olympics.
“For me it was just trying to do the best job we could with the circumstances that we had. And we obviously had lots of challenges in lots of way and lots of people have had it worse,” Speraw said.
“So we were just grateful to have the opportunity to come out here and compete. We really wanted to come here and win. This is a team that has been here before and learned a lot from its previous experience, we thought we had a good opportunity.
“I felt like if we won this match we could have medaled in this tournament. This pool was unforgiving and when you play in the toughest pool it’s hard. We started off great.
“I just hope this team has an opportunity to regroup and give it another shot. They deserve it and they’re a great group of guys. It’s a great team to coach and I feel terrible for them.”