U.S. men's volleyball secures a spot in quarterfinals with sweep over Mexico
The USA men's volleyball team has battled all the way back from the brink of elimination to holding a legitimate shot at the No. 2 seed in Pool A.
The Americans swept Mexico (25-23, 25-11, 25-19) in the final match of the preliminary round Monday, giving them nine points and a guaranteed shot in the quarterfinals.
They entered play Monday needing a strong showing or else they would have been on the outside looking in at the quarterfinals round.
Before the fifth day of prelims, the U.S. was tied with Brazil, Canada and France with six points in Pool A, but there was only room for three of those teams to advance.
With Brazil playing France Monday night, USA was guaranteed a spot in the quarterfinals with three points against Mexico, which it accomplished with a sweep in straight sets.
"I am really happy to get this win and move on to the quarterfinals, when early on in this tournament, it looked like it was going to be a difficult challenge," U.S. coach John Speraw told FIVB. "We survived and persevered when things weren't really looking good. We're proud of the team for the way they have grown in the course of this tournament."
It was quite the comeback for the Americans, who failed to collect a point in the first two matches in Rio, getting swept by Canada and losing to Italy in four sets.
But the U.S. squad shocked the top team in the world (Brazil) on Day 3, then downed France on Day 4 and took care of business in the final match.
"We all had to pick it up," outside hitter Taylor Sander told the AP. "Those first two matches, we weren't playing USA volleyball. We weren't aggressive, we weren't giving our heart every single point. Our coaching staff did a good job holding us accountable.
"We had a couple team meetings. We all just sat and talked about what we needed to do to win. We talked about it, then we went and did it."
Shockingly, the Americans found success Monday with their best player, Matt Anderson, sitting on the sidelines.
Anderson was the spark for U.S. against France and had been having a fantastic tournament, but hardly played against Mexico, getting benched early for Murphy Troy.
Anderson made a couple mistakes early in the match and Troy had a big game from the outset, finishing with 12 points and two blocks.
"It was a huge win for our team because we needed to advance to the quarterfinals," Troy said, according to the FIVB. "We did that and we accomplished our goal."
Max Holt had 11 points and five service aces for USA while Taylor Sander (12 points, three blocks, one ace) and David Lee (11 points, two aces, two blocks) also had big contributions.
The Americans continued their Rio trend of getting off to a slow start, actually trailing to Mexico 22-21 in the first set before going on a run to close out the victory in the opener.
"In the first set, we came out a little bit tight," Troy said. "We were a little bit focused on not losing instead of playing to win, but we bounced back after the first set. We got pushed at the end of that first set and we responded well.
"We played defense, we made some plays and that's what it takes. It was good for us to feel a little pressure to play at a high level."
The U.S. also let Mexico stick around with unforced errors throughout the match, including 11 service aces between the first two sets. In the second set alone, the U.S. handed Mexico almost as many points with botched serves (5) as the Mexicans earned themselves (6).
The U.S. will find out its opponent in the quarterfinals Monday night.