A spot in the Volleyball Nations League championship match is on the line Saturday when the USA men play Poland and Olympic gold-medalist France plays Italy in the semifinals in Bologna, Italy

“Poland’s a great team. We’ve had a lot of incredible volleyball matches over the years in major events, so this will be another one,” USA coach John Speraw said. “Poland has played very well throughout VNL. They have exceptional depth at all spots, so they’re challenging to prepare for because you have to know everybody.”

The USA men (11-2) are coming off a four-set quarterfinals victory over Brazil. Poland went five in its quarterfinal victory over Iran.

Poland beat the USA on June 26 in Sofia, Bulgaria, 21-25, 25-23, 26-24, 25-22. Just as they did against Brazil on Wednesday, outsides Aaron Russell and TJ DeFalco led the Americans against Poland. Russell had 13 kills, three aces and a dig. DeFalco had 11 kills, a block, a dig and two aces. Olympic setter Micah Christenson had not yet joined the team.

Poland, including Marcin Janusz, had plenty to celebrate after beating the USA on June 26/Volleyball World photo

Poland’s Bartosz went off for 21 kills and two blocks and Kamil Semeniuk had 14 kills and an ace.

“When we played them the first time we had a slightly different lineup, but the match was really close and in a couple of those sets we had opportunities to win and didn’t close it out,” Speraw recalled. “It was also apparent, like a lot of matches throughout VNL, the cadence of matches, the timing of matches and managing fatigue was a challenge for us.”

That match was the last one of the second round of the preliminary phase. The USA had beaten Bulgaria in four the day before, while Poland the day before swept Australia. In the case of Saturday’s match, the USA has had two days off; Poland one.

“I think it will be great to get into a match where both teams are ready to go and hopefully playing their best volleyball,” Speraw said, “and if that’s the case, I expect another really tight match.”

Not surprisingly, the top four teams from the first three rounds are the four teams left. Italy, Poland and the USA all went 10-2 and France finished 9-3.

Against Brazil, DeFalco led the USA with 16 kills and Russell had 14. Middle David Smith had eight kills and three blocks.

Poland got past Iran in the semifinals Thursday 25-21, 24-26, 25-18, 16-25, 15-7. Semeniuk led with 15 kills and two blocks and Bartosz had 13 kills and a block. 

In the other semifinal, Italy is coming off a four-set win over the Netherlands on Wednesday and France swept Japan on Thursday. France swept Italy on June 8 in Ottawa to open VNL play.

Both semifinals can be seen on volleyballworld.tv.

USA WOMEN SCHEDULE TÜRKYE: Both teams played in the VNL this summer and now they’ll face off three times in Southern California in matches August 27-28 at Long Beach State and August 30 at UC San Diego.

In VNL, the Americans won one of the most exciting matches of the tournament when they beat Türkiye 25-22, 18-25, 27-25, 23-25, 18-16 on July 2 in Calgary. Kara Bajema had 24 kills for the USA, Annie Drews 19 and Kelsey Robinson 19 in a victory that clinched a quarterfinal spot. The Americans, however, lost that quarterfinal match to Serbia in five. 

Türkiye beat France in the quarterfinals, lost to Italy in the semifinals and lost to Serbia in the match for third place.

“Türkiye is one of the best teams in the world,” USA coach Karch Kiraly told USA Volleyball. “They gave us all we could handle and more in our pool play match at the Olympics. We barely got out with a win.

“They have made massive improvement over the last few years. They have really taken their country by storm. Women’s volleyball gets so much attention because they have gotten so much better.

“Every time we play them, they challenge us and make us better. I hope we do the same for them.”

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