The USA men, who failed to get out of pool play last summer in the Tokyo Olympics, took it to Brazil on Wednesday in the Volleyball Nations League quarterfinals.

The 20-25, 25-22, 25-23, 25-17 victory in Bologna, Italy, put the USA into the VNL semifinals for the third time in tournament history and first since 2019. That year the USA lost in the final.

“It wasn’t perfect volleyball, but it was winning volleyball,” USA coach John Speraw said, “and when you can win those matches when everything isn’t going perfectly well, that’s an experience you can grow from.”

The Americans will play the winner of Thursday’s match between Poland and Iran.

In the other match Wednesday, Italy beat the Netherlands 21-25, 25-22, 25-13, 25-22. The Italians get the winner of France-Japan.

“We’re excited to be back in medal contention,” Speraw said. “This team deserves it, we’ve been there in the past. 

“We did not have the results we were hoping for in Tokyo, so it’s good to be back the following summer and be in a medal match. A semifinal, a medal match, is really good for us. The team has a different feel. Obviously there are a lot of players that were with us a long period of time who are not here right now.”

Speraw mentioned Max Holt, Kawika Shoji, Dustin Watten, Taylor Sander (who has turned to pro beach volleyball) and superstar Matt Anderson, whom the coach said will return to the USA team for the World Championships later this summer.

“So this team has a very different vibe and different leadership is stepping in and taking charge and I really like what I’m seeing,” Speraw said. “Good leadership skills, good team chemistry, and it’s good to be back in that place and winning matches. I think it’s exceptionally valuable to have that quarterfinal experience and to win one.”

The outsides carried the USA offensively against Brazil. TJ DeFalco had 16 kills, hitting .413, an ace and two digs. Click here to watch DeFalco’s offensive highlights. Aaron Russell had 14 kills, hitting .461, and 12 digs. 

Right through the wickets for the USA’s David Smith/Volleyball World photo

Middle David Smith had eight kills with no errors in 11 attacks to hit 727 and had three blocks and five digs, and the other middle, Jeff Jendryk, had six kills with no errors in 10 swings, two blocks and two digs. Click here for highlights of Smith’s blocks. Opposite Kyle Russell had eight kills, hitting .375, and digs digs, and Kyle Ensing had four kills, a block, an ace and three digs.

Setter Micah Christenson had 34 assists, a block, two aces, and four digs. His second ace ended the match. Click here for his assists highlights.

Libero Erik Shoji had five digs, some spectacular, especially in the fourth set.

“Every time we play Brazil, it’s a battle,” Shoji said on the post-match Volleyball World TV interview. “They are some of the best in the world. We wanted to fight and have fun and I think we did that for sure. 

‘It’s always great to win and.we are in the semifinals!”

Brazil’s Ricardo Souza backward tips against the block of Micah Christenson/Volleyball World photo

Speraw praised the team’s poise after making a comeback late in the third set.

“We obviously lost the first set and came back and won the second one and in the third set we made the plays necessary down the stretch, which changed the emotional tenor of the match,” Speraw continued. “That allowed us to get off to a fast start in the fourth. Even then Brazil makes a nice comeback and puts some pressure on us and we respond.”

The USA built an early lead in the fourth, was up 12-5, but Brazil pulled to 16-15 before the Americans finished on an 8-1 run.

“So I’m proud of our mental toughness and to be able to play point-by-point volleyball and for guys to make plays when it mattered.”

Brazil, which also lost to the Americans in pool play, got 18 kills from Leal, 15 from Ricardo Lucarelli, and 11 from Darlan Ferreira.

Italy got 12 kills and four aces from Yuri Romano, 10 kills each from Daniele Lavia and Alessandro Michieltetto, and nine from Roberto Russo, who had three blocks.

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A happy USA team after beating Brazil/Volleyball World photo


  1. DeFalco has amazed me; as outside hitters go he’s just not that tall. [ 6’4″ ] But his kill percentage is excellent. No wonder Long Beach State was such a force in the NCAA.


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