USA FALLS TO ITALY

The men’s vol­ley­ball team says good­bye to gold and will play Rus­sia for bronze

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - By Janie Mc­Cauley

RIO DE JANEIRO >> Max Holt did a lit­tle bit of ev­ery­thing. At the net, dig­ging balls from just off the floor, fin­ish­ing points with big, leap­ing swings.

He and David Lee stuffed the Ital­ians with stel­lar block­ing. Set­ter Micah Chris­ten­son con­trib­uted his own blocks and even a kill to end the third set. Matt An­der­son, Aaron Rus­sell and Tay­lor San­der pro­vided power hit­ting from ev­ery cor­ner.

Mighty Italy just had a lit­tle more in a match that will surely be­come an Olympic vol­ley­ball clas­sic.

For nearly 21⁄2 hours Fri­day, the young, over­achiev­ing Amer­i­cans stayed with an Ital­ian group that U.S. coach John Speraw con­sid­ers the world’s most tal­ented and des­tined for gold in Brazil.

The Amer­i­cans, who be­gan the tour­na­ment with an 0-2 start that in­cluded a loss to Italy 10 days ear­lier, ran off four straight vic­to­ries be­fore falling in a riv­et­ing five-set semi­fi­nal that Italy won 30-28, 26-28, 9-25, 25-22, 15-9.

“This team fought the en­tire time,” Lee said. “Los­ing that first set made us fight even harder. We couldn’t sus­tain that same level we had in the sec­ond and third to put the team out in the fourth set. We had an ad­van­tage in the fourth, we had a small lull in en­ergy and that’s when they came back, and they have such good servers that team can come back at any time and be back in a game. You can never count them out.”

The Ital­ians will play for gold Sun­day against Brazil, which de­feated de­fend­ing

Olympic cham­pion Rus­sia 25-21, 25-22, 25-17 in Fri­day’s other semi­fi­nal. Brazil will be play­ing in its fourth straight fi­nal and will be look­ing for its first gold since 2004 in Athens. Italy won the bronze in 2012 in Lon­don.

“It was strange. There was a really strong force in­side us telling us, ‘Don’t give up, keep fight­ing,’” Italy’s Ivan Zayt­sev said.

His team fought, all right. Af­ter­ward, the play­ers fell to the floor, pil­ing on each other.

Lee brought his Amer­i­can team­mates into a hud­dle for an em­brace. Then An­der­son and San­der clapped to the crowd as the U.S. waited at the net to shake hands with the win­ners.

In the fifth set, Os­many Juan­torena served an ace for a 12-8 lead and Rus­sell let a ball drop as Holt cov­ered his face with his shirt.

Af­ter an em­bar­rass­ing third-set flop, Italy forced a de­cid­ing fifth set by clos­ing the fourth on a 6-0 run — get­ting three straight aces by Zayt­sev, in­clud­ing the next-to-last point that was ini­tially called long but over­turned on re­view for set point.

“To­day, the teams have played more than a match,” Italy coach Gian­lorenzo Blengini said.

The Amer­i­can men have eight first-time Olympians.

“I’m really sad this team didn’t make it be­cause they’re so good and they de­served to be in the fi­nal,” said Lee, who won gold in Bei­jing eight years ago and is in his third Olympics. “I don’t care about how old they are. They’re fight­ers.”

Italy ended the Amer­i­can men’s gold medal as­pi­ra­tions for a sec­ond straight Olympics. The U.S. will play for bronze, just like the topranked Amer­i­can women, who lost in five sets to Ser­bia on Thurs­day.

The in­ten­sity of Fri­day’s match was cap­tured in a wild first set in which the Amer­i­cans had five set points. With the score 25-25, Italy’s Mas­simo Co­laci made a lung­ing, one-handed get from the ground be­fore team­mate Filippo Lanza sent the ball over the net from his knees near the base­line to keep the rally go­ing.

The score was tied again, at 28. Rus­sell sig­naled that Italy cap­tain Emanuele Bi­rarelli’s serve was go­ing out and let the ball drop. Italy’s play­ers rushed the net to ar­gue to ref­eree Ar­turo di Gi­a­como of Bel­gium, con­tend­ing the Amer­i­cans touched the ball. He over­ruled the call and what had gone to a 29-28 lead for the U.S. sud­denly turned to 2928 for Italy, which won the set 30-28.

“My play­ers gave it ev­ery­thing that they could to­day. I couldn’t ask any more,” Speraw said. “I al­most feel to­day we need to mourn.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The United States’ Kawika Shoji low­ered his head af­ter the Amer­i­cans lost to Italy in a men’s semi­fi­nal vol­ley­ball match at the 2016 Sum­mer Olympics on Fri­day.

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