Aleksander Sliwka (14) and Poland celebrate a point in their victory against the United States on Saturday.
Katowice, Poland, June 1, 2019 - Aleksander Sliwka scored 20 points to lead reigning back-to-back world champions Poland to their second victory of the 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League by defeating 2018 bronze medallists USA 3-2 (17-25, 34-32, 26-28, 25-23, 15-9) at the Spodek Arena in Katowice on Saturday. For both teams it was the second match of the 2019 campaign with Poland defeating Australia and USA losing to 2016 Olympic champions Brazil on Friday.
Returning to the venue of their FIVB Volleyball World Championship triumph in 2014, when Poland defeated Brazil in four sets to win gold, coach Vital Heynen's men immediately got the crowd going with a strong start to the first set, but USA soon matched the hosts' pace to stay level with a Torey 'TJ' Defalco spike giving the Americans their first lead at 7-6. USA opened up a bit of a gap at 13-9 before taking a six-point lead at 16-10 thanks to a Garrett Muagututia spike. USA powered on to the finish line at 25-17 with Poland failing to find a response.
USA coach John Speraw's men returned to the court hoping to build on their first set advantage but this time it was Poland who claimed the first three points including an ace by their captain Michal Kubiak. USA were unfazed and worked their way back from a five-point deficit. But Poland's Mateusz Bieniek contributed a powerful attack to again put his team ahead.
In a reversal of the first set scenario, it looked like Poland would claim the set confidently, despite a strong run of serves by USA's David Smith and USA hitting the winner on a megarally at 17-19. Instead the United States fought back to push the set into a 48-minute marathon with both teams exchanging points and the hosts only coming out on top at 34-32.
USA's Kawika Shoji immediately served up two aces to begin the third set, but it was not enough to destabilize Poland. The hosts soon took the lead in the set with Sliwka continuing to add points to his total. Two points by Defalco brought USA level at 11-11. The two teams matched each other point for point, Defalco was denied by a Kubiak block and the teams were again level at 21-all. A Defalco spike gave the visitors set point and Kyle Russell claimed the winner at 28-26.
USA took an early lead in the fourth set on the back of their success in the third. A Jakub Kochanowski block gave Poland the lead at 10-9, however, before Dawid Konarski helped to give his team some room at 12-9. Poland held on to the lead and a three-point edge at the second technical timeout at 16-13 to the tune of Gloria Gaynor anthem "I will survive" played over the Spodek Arena sound-system. USA drew level at 21-all, however, with Kyle Ensing and Joshua Tuaniga entering the court for the first time. And again it was close with the two teams swapping points before Poland claimed set point at 24-23 and a Defalco miss to take the match into a tiebreaker.
USA got the first point of the fifth but a Konarski block demonstrated the hosts would battle on to the end after twice coming back from a set down, providing the local fans with a memorable climax to the match. Poland built up a five-point lead in front of their ecstatic fans before a Bieniek spike sparked Polish celebrations at 15-9.
Poland captain Michal Kubiak keeps the ball in play
Tonight's match between Poland and the United States was a replay of a 2018 Men's World Championship semifinal. Poland prevailed in five sets en route to their second world title in a row.
The two teams had met 38 times in world level major tournaments going into this match, with both teams winning 19 times.
In last year's Volleyball Nations League the United States beat Poland in straight sets in both the preliminary round and the final round.