Lille, France, July 6, 2018 - Maxim Mikhaylov led the Russian troops to the top of pool B in the Men’s Volleyball Nations League in a 3-0 victory (25-22, 25-21, 25-21) over United States’ second choosing.
Both the Russians and Americans were certain of a spot in the semi-finals after beating Poland, so all at stake was the advantage of playing the second ranked team in the semi-final. Russia had a rest day on Thursday and came out all guns blazing, with high scorers Mikhaylov, Kliuka, Volvo and Muserskiy starting the match. But Mikhaylov proved to be the go-to man for setter Dmitry Kovalev when points are becoming more important. The Zenit Kazan opposite topped the charts with 16 points, including 1 block and an ace.
Before this match the Russians were leading the head-to-head 35-23, having won the last two matches as well. But before that, USA had an 8-0 run, so nothing was decided beforehand. Both countries came into today’s match having won 12 of the 16 Nations League matches of 2018.
Egor Kliuka had a great run of points before being substituted in the third set, when victory seemed imminent for the Russian side. He already had 11 points from the first two sets. Mikhaylov was the steady rock Russia could build on, producing some hard to pass serves - that his teammates could spike from the overpass - and 14 clean scores from attack. Volkov also added 11 points to the scoreboard, most of which he converted in the third set.
USA head coach John Speraw sent in his B-team to play for the top spot in pool, as he didn’t want his usual starting seven to play four days in a row. So Aaron Russell, Kyle Ensing, Jeffrey Jendryk, Torey Defalco, Daniel Madonnell, Kawika Shoji and Dustin Watten were brought on to stun the Russians. They made the most of the opportunity, playing with nothing to lose. Three players managed to reach double figures, Perugia’s wing spiker Aaron Russell leading the way with 14 points to his name.
Russia were spot on, right of the mark. With powerhouse Maxim Mikhaylov on serve they built up a lead of three points in the opening set, that lasted until 18-15. A Dmitriy Volkov net fault put the Americans back in motion and it was Aaron Russell with two points scoring off the block that equalled both teams on 18-18. From then on it was the big man from Zenit Kazan, Mikhaylov, that secured the first set win for Russia with four scores above the 20-point mark, including a set point block on Torey Defalco’s push attack. 25-22.
Having realized that USA’s B-team was quite a match for the Russian big shots, Speraw maintained his line-up in the second set. In an entertaining set both teams treated the spectators to some wonderful volleyball. Opposite Kyle Ensing was sharp on the USA side, getting in five points, one ace included. With Russell and Defalco joining in with both 4 points, USA were in reach of the Russians. But as often, Mikhaylov made the difference on the big points. A Defalco error handed the second set over to Russia, 25-21.
The difference in the third set was created from 10-10 at the hands of Mikhaylov, three of his scores helped the European champions to a 18-13 lead. Russian coach Sergei Shliapnikov brought on his substitutes Igor Kobzar, Victor Poletaev and Anton Karpukhov. They saw USA come back to 23-20, but on the second match point it was Anton Karpukhov that made the victory Russia’s.
The Russians are now on 9 wins out if the last 10 matches, only France managed to beat them. They will now have to wait and see which team they will be playing in the semi-final on Saturday. USA will also be playing the waiting game, as France and Serbia will be clashing to see who will also advance to the final four, together with Brazil.