Apparently the U.S. men’s volleyball team just needed to get all the jitters out.
Since losing six of seven sets to begin Olympic competition in Rio, the Americans have now won 12 of their last 14 sets, including a three-set sweep (25-23, 25-22, 25-20) of Poland Wednesday in the quarterfinals.
The American roster features eight first-time Olympians and the young group has gelled together to go 4-0 since the slow start.
Poland entered the Games as the No. 2 team in the world though it hadn’t secured a medal in men’s volleyball since the 1976 Olympics. The Polish team collected 12 points in the preliminary round, going 4-1 with the only loss coming on a 3-2 defeat at the hands of Russia, the reigning gold medalists.
The U.S. attack was spread out throughout the afternoon with Aaron Russell (15 points, two blocks, ace), Matt Anderson (11 points, block, ace) and Taylor Sander (11 points, two aces) leading the way.
Both teams had to endure bouts of sloppiness throughout the match, including a combined 12 service faults in the first set. USA’s saving grace in that first set was a 13-for-17 success rate on spikes.
It looked like Poland was running away with the second set to even things up before a U.S. rally flipped an 18-13 Polish lead into a 20-19 USA advantage.
The U.S. added six more service faults in the second set but helped even out the mistakes with three aces.
In the third set, U.S. coach John Speraw called for a clutch challenge that turned the tide and changed the score from a 3-1 Poland lead to a 2-2 tie. That set the Americans on a path toward a 6-4 lead and they never looked back from there.
The U.S. will take on the winner of Italy and Iran in the semifinal Friday. No matter what happens, Team USA will get to play in a medal game after missing out on the semifinals in the 2012 London Olympics.