And just like that, the winning streak for the United States men’s volleyball team in Olympic competition is over. Entering their Group B match against Russia on Saturday, head coach Alan Knipe’s USA team looked like the team to beat at the London Olympics.
After all, they were unbeaten in group play and were coming off an impressive 3-1 upset victory over the top-ranked Brazilians. And after the first two sets against the Russians, Team USA looked like their unbeaten streak (which dates back to the 2008 Beijing Olympics) would stretch to an impressive 12-straight matches.
Led by the sustained impressive play of star outside hitter Matt Anderson, Team USA stormed out to a 2-0 set lead against Russia, and had a match point in the third set. But in volleyball, you need to put a team away (especially a juggernaut like the Russians) when you have the chance.
In the end, powered by the unstoppable duo of Serguei Tetioukhine and Maksim Mikhailov (who combined for 40 kills), Russia stormed back to snap Team USA’s winning streak in five sets, winning 27-29, 19-25, 26-24, 25-16, 15-8.
As far as what went wrong for the Americans in their collapse, you have to start with the veteran duo of Reid Priddy and Clay Stanley. If Knipe’s team is to be successful in London, it’s obvious that Priddy and team captain Stanley, along with Anderson, must bring it offensively.
Anderson certainly did his job against Russia. He had 16 kills and attacked the imposing Russian block without fear for much of the match.
But Priddy and Stanley both struggled with their kill attempts. At one point in the match, Priddy was a painful 2-of-19 on his hit attempts, simply not good enough against a talented team like Russia. Eventually, Priddy was replaced by outside hitter Sean Rooney in the fourth set.
Rooney played well in his first big Olympic opportunity, but his contribution did little to turn the Russians away, as they absolutely mauled Knipe’s team in the final two sets.
Stanley finished the five-set marathon with only 12 kills. For a decorated hitter like Stanley, tallying 12 kills is a feat he usually pulls off in three sets, never mind five.
Overall, Team USA hit a meager .169 for the match, compared to winning Russia’s .309 percent. While the loss is a tough one for American fans to swallow, there’s still plenty of reason to be optimistic that this team can repeat as gold medalists. Knipe’s team is still atop their tough group as they prepare to play doormat Tunisia in the final match of group play.
And for at least a game-and-a-half, they’ve proven they can beat anyone on the planet, coming away with a victory against Brazil and a near win against Russia, widely regarded as the field’s two best teams.
Before these Olympics began, I mentioned that Anderson, despite being the team’s youngest player (24), was its best hitter. Now, he’s also turned into the team’s best all-around player.
He’s firing on all cylinders right now. Anderson hasn’t only been hitting impressively, he’s turned into Knipe’s best server and passer, as well.
If he can keep building on his impressive Olympic debut, then this team will fare very well in elimination play. And Knipe has also seen solid play from middle blocker David Lee, veteran setter Donald Suxho and libero Rich Lambourne.
If Priddy and Stanley can rebound, then Team USA will be a very tough out from here on. After a week in London, it’s evident that Brazil, Russia and the United States (in no particular order) are the three best men’s volleyball teams on the court.
Now it’s just a matter of determining which squad will win gold, silver and bronze, respectively.