With a young group, U.S. men’s volleyball coach John Speraw knew he’d find out vital information about his team in its first two matches in the World League this weekend at Koch Arena.
And no doubt he liked what he saw on Saturday in the second match as the U.S. beat Argentina 3-1 (22-25, 27-25, 25-19, 25-16). Argentina won Friday’s match in four sets.
“I think we have the capability of being a great team,” Speraw said. “… You can see that guys came in and off the bench and gave the team a lift. Sometimes guys don’t do that because they’re bitter that they’re on the bench to begin with. I think everyone came in with the idea that they could contribute, and they did.
“This was a full team effort. I like that. That’s a really nice foundation for where we need to go from here.”
Key players off the bench were Paul Lotman (nine kills), Carson Clark (three aces) and setter Kawika Shoji.
Shoji entered the match, replacing starter Brian Thornton, in the second set with the U.S. down 12-5.
“He set a really good match coming off the bench again,” said captain Matt Anderson, who had a match-high 14 kills. “We got our hitters into some really good rhythm.”
Speraw was also pleased with Shoji.
“I actually thought Brian was setting a better volleyball match,” Sperwa said. “There was a series of decisions that occurred early in that second set that I wasn’t very happy with.… At that point we’re down a game and a half, it looked like we were going to lose that second set, too. So I wanted to take a look and mix some things up.”
It paid off, and because the hitters are so used to both setters, there was no initial disruption.
“It’s a little different, but the way our trainings are set up, we get reps with both setters, so we feel comfortable with both of them,” Anderson said. “They run a very similar offense.”
Argentina served and hit well in the first set, getting a set-point block from Sebastian Sole. Argentina has a strong stable of hitters, and it took advantage against a weak block through the first set and a half.
Ivan Ccastellani had 13 kills for Argentina, while Pablo Bengolea had 12, Federico Pereyra 10.
But the U.S. blocking improved in the second set, and so did the offense. The biggest difference, though, was serving.
“Obviously our servers were a lot better tonight,” Anderson said. “We put a lot of pressure on them versus them putting pressure on us last night. We passed pretty well, and so we were able to run our offense pretty good. A lot of our serves are very similar to our attacking, so when we get in a good rhythm with our attacking, it gives us confidence to go back and hit our serves.”
Shoji got an ace to tie the score at 23-all in the second set. After trading missed serves, Paul Lotman got a kill for the 25-all tie, David Lee followed with a block and Lotman ended the set with a kill.
It was an important win that clearly gave the U.S. needed confidence.
“We were able to come back and get that win in the second set,” Sperwa said. “I think that was really important for us.”
In the third set, Argentina had a 10-9 lead, but then the U.S. started taking control on Shoji’s serve as Argentina had two unforced errors. The Americans went on a 10-4 run for a 19-14 lead on David Smith’s ace. The final five U.S. points included two kills by Carson Clark, a block by Lotman and then Argentina served out on set point.
“When the other team played better, no good for us,” Argentina coach Javier Weber said. “It’s important to play better. Yesterday we played well the whole match. Today, only two sets.”
In the fourth set, Argentina had missed four serves and trailed 8-6. Argentina missed three more, and the U.S. was outstanding on the serve with three aces in Set 4. Clark had three aces in the match, while Shoji and Anderson each had two.
After a Clark ace to take a 23-15 lead in the final set, Anderson had a wicked kill on the middle attack, then Clark ended the match on a kill.
Lee finished with six kills and five blocks. Smith had four blocks.