RIO DE JANEIRO – It’s official: No U.S. volleyball teams will compete for a gold medal at the Rio Olympics, marking the first time since 1992 that the Americans will leave the Games without a gold or silver medal in indoor or beach.
The men’s indoor volleyball team fell to Sunday’s bronze medal match after a 3-2 (30-28, 26-28, 9-25, 25-22, 15-9) loss to Italy, who finished first in their preliminary pool. The Americans will face either Russia or host Brazil for the bronze at the iconic Maracanãzinho arena.
The U.S. suffered disappointment in volleyball’s other three tournaments in Rio as well. The No. 1 in the world women’s indoor team was shocked by Serbia in the semifinals and will play for bronze on Saturday. Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross won bronze in beach volleyball after a semifinal loss. The men’s beach volleyball team of Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena lost in the quarterfinals to Brazil.
In men’s indoor, the Americans were seeking their first gold medal since Beijing in 2008 and fourth overall.
Italy rallied impressively in the first set, overcoming a six-point deficit and five set points from the U.S. to win it 30-28.
In the second set, the U.S. rallied from a three-point deficit late and then managed to close out the Italians late at 28-26 on a Matt Anderson ace.
That momentum carried over to the third set, which was an American rout: a 6-1 lead out of the gate that ballooned to a 15-point advantage later in the set. They rolled to a 25-9 win, as the Italians conserved their energy once it was out of hand.
The fourth set was a battle, with neither team holding more than a three-point advantage. But it was Italy’s star Ivan Zaytsev who took over, tallying three straight aces to take the set (including one confirmed by video review).
The fifth set saw the Italians steady the ship and close out the Americans.
Italy had given the Americans major trouble the last two times they met in the Olympics – eliminating them in the quarterfinals of the London Games, and then defeating them in four sets in pool play in Rio.
But as Aaron Russell of Team USA said after their quarterfinal win over Poland, this team had grown in mental toughness as the Rio tournament has continued.
“We’re coming into matches much more aggressive. You can see with the way that we’re playing – we’re going after a lot more balls. It’s a lot more fun to play that way,” he said.
The Americans began the tournament with an upset loss to Canada in three sets.
“I think first match we were a little nervous. It was a lot of our players’ first match out there – first Olympic match. Against Italy you just didn’t see the kind of heart that we (have) right now,” he said. “We got together as a team, had some meetings and talked over what is expected of each one of us. We’re doing that and we’re handling that well.”
Team USA entered the Rio Games with expectations that it could medal, despite bringing in eight Olympic newbies and facing an incredibly deep field.
“I think that we’ve proven we can medal, to the surprise of many. People said this [four years] was going to be a generational shift. We had a core group of guys who won the gold medal in 2008, and now we have an influx of youth,” coach John Speraw said. “And yet we’ve been able to win a World League and win a World Cup last year. That said, we have a deep respect for the talent level in volleyball that exists in the world today.”
In the end, the talented Italians proved too much. And for USA volleyball, the frustration continues in Rio.
Listen to Yahoo Sports’ Greg Wyshynski podcast from Rio on GRANDSTANDING, featuring a Ryan Lochte Controversy Edition with Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports and Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star!
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