Olympics

USA volleyball men sweep Russia to reach FIVB final six

Aaron Russell (2) of the US takes a shot against Alexander Volkov (18) and Victor Poletaev (15) of Russia in the first set of an FIVB World League match at Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas Sunday, July 3, 2016.
Aaron Russell (2) of the US takes a shot against Alexander Volkov (18) and Victor Poletaev (15) of Russia in the first set of an FIVB World League match at Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas Sunday, July 3, 2016. rrodriguez@star-telegram.com

One month remains between now and the quest for gold at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

That’s the ultimate goal, but the U.S. men’s volleyball team first is seeking another gold medal in the Federation of International Volleyball world league.

In front of an electric crowd of 8,000, the U.S. swept Russia 35-33, 25-17, 25-21 on Sunday at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Center.

Great crowd, one of the best domestic crowds we have ever seen.

U.S. men’s volleyball coach John Speraw

“Good match,” USA coach John Speraw said. “Great crowd, one of the best domestic crowds we have ever seen.”

The U.S. advances to the FIVB final round of six for the third consecutive year, joining Italy, Serbia, France, Brazil and host team Poland in Krakow from July 13-17. It will be the final set of games before the Olympics, which run from Aug. 5-21.

“We all know the ultimate statement will be in Rio,” Speraw said. “What I’m really happy with is that we’ve been able to get to the world league final three straight years — that’s not an automatic thing to happen and for us to do that, gives us an opportunity to medal again, I’m really pleased where we’re at as a program and how these guys are playing.”

It looked as if Russia, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist, was going to take the first set. The Russians were coming off decisive sweeps in Dallas against Bulgaria and Australia.

Russia led 7-4 before USA tied it 7-7 after a block from Maxwell Holt, who was on the 2012 team that went to London. The Russians went up no more than three points, including 19-16, but again the Americans rallied to tie it at 22-22 on a kill from Micah Christenson.

That’s when the fun really started.

Russia missed out not on one, not two, but four set points while USA finished the game on a seventh attempt. Christenson set up Taylor Sander down the middle for his team-high ninth kill.

Going back and forth and the crowd getting into it. Us as players live for those kinds of moments, and it was cool to be a part of it.

U.S. player Taylor Sander, on fighting off four set points in the 35-33 first-set win

“It didn’t feel real, didn’t feel that long, it was fun and that’s all I can remember,” Sander said. “Going back and forth and the crowd getting into it. Us as players live for those kinds of moments, and it was cool to be a part of it.”

Sander finished with 11 kills on 17 attempts while Aaron Russell had a game-high 12 kills. Murphy Troy also got into double digits with 10 kills.

Sander will be going to his first Olympics, while those on the 2012 team include Holt, Reid Priddy, David Smith, Matt Anderson and captain David Lee.

USA won FIVB gold in 2014 and finished third last season, also winning it in 2008 — the same year the Americans won Olympic gold.

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