VNLFINALS2022_BOLOGNA_NT_POL_USA_4

Micah Christenson celebrates

USA and France will lock horns for the 2022 title in the men’s Volleyball Nations League. The United States advanced to the VNL final for the second time in history as their outside hitter Torey Defalco delivered six aces, five of them in set three alone, towards a 3-0 (25-22, 25-23, 25-13) shutout of Poland in Saturday’s first semifinal in Bologna. In the second semifinal, France also disposed of hosts Italy in straight sets, 3-0 (25-22, 25-20, 25-15), and showing some great serving, to make it to their second final in the history of the competition.

· Watch all VNL 2022 matches live on Volleyball TV.

In addition to his six aces, Defalco produced six attack kills and a stuff block to top the scorers’ chart of the first semifinal on a total of 13 points. Middle blocker David Smith also had a great match, contributing 10 points to USA’s victory, including an ace and three blocks. Polish captain Bartosz Kurek was his team’s most prolific player with 11 points to his name.

Kurek aced off the net to give Poland the first two-point lead at 3-1 in the first set. Surprisingly, that was his last point in the set. USA caught up at 6-6 on a Jeffrey Jendryk kill through the middle. It went point for point until the technical timeout. After 12-12, opposite Kyle Ensing’s off-the-block hit produced an American break point. Then he delivered a powerful serve to give setter Micah Christenson the opportunity to hammer the overpass for a 14-12 lead. The playmaker put away another break point with a spike on two to extend it to 16-13, but Poland reacted with a four-point series, highlighted by an ace from middle blocker Jakub Kochanowski, to regain the lead one last time in the set at 17-16. With their captain Smith on fire in the middle of the net, USA were well in control through the rest of the set. A Defalco ace delivered the set point at 24-21 and an off-the-block hit by outside Aaron Russell converted it to a 25-22 win.

Kochanowski got the second set underway with a perfectly placed ace. Later, he extended the gap to 13-11 with a monster block and Kurek widened it further after hammering it down for 18-15. However, USA battled back to catch up at 20-20. After a great dig by libero Erik Shoji, middle blocker Smith was in a position to set the ball for Ensing, who put it away for a 21-20 US advantage. In the money time, the Americans stayed in control and brought it home at 25-23 on a monster block by setter Christenson.

Three opponent errors in a row gave USA a 5-2 lead in the third set. Two back-to-back aces by Defalco extended it to 8-3. Smith chipped in a direct serving point for 10-4. If the world champs had any slim hopes of coming back in this match, they faded away when Defalco took to the serving line again at 17-10. Aaron Russell tipped the overpass on Defalco’s first powerful serve and then TJ went on to fire another three aces in a row to widen the gap to 21-10. Sub-in Kyle Russell put in another one for 23-11 and it was just a matter of another couple of minutes to wrap it all up. Jendryk hammered it through the middle for 24-12 and the match winner came out of a mistaken Polish serve for 25-13.

TJ Defalco’s aces against Poland

“I have not quite processed it yet. I’m still in the match, still hyped up and ready to go and play a game of volleyball. But I am really excited to have the team to support behind me and ready to play for the medal! The process of serving? If it is a good toss, I’m going to go up and hit it! That’s all you need to know...” Torey Defalco, outside hitter of USA

France outplayed Italy on all counts in the second semifinal, most impressively in serving with 11 aces against only two for the opponents. Their opposite Jean Patry led the scorers on 16 points, followed by outsides Trevor Clevenot on 15 and Earvin Ngapeth on 14. On Italy’s side, Alessandro Michieletto was the only one to reach the double digits with 10 points.

Earvin Ngapeth's aces against Italy

Spearheaded by their star outside Ngapeth, France outspiked Italy in the first set. They took an early 2-0 lead, but then had to recover from a 4-2 Italian advantage. Later in the set, the French edged forward with a three-point lead at 16-13, but the home team not only caught up at 16-16, but opened a 20-18 lead of their own. After siding out, France hammered out another four points in a row with Patry behind the serving line to break away with a 23-20 margin and, shortly after, closed the set at 25-22.

Patry and Ngapeth were on fire in the second set too. The opposite contributed as many as eight points towards a 25-20 French win, while the outside produced three aces. Italy managed to take an early two-point lead, but France quickly bounced back and stayed in control through the rest of the set. Despite the support from the Italian crowd on the packed stands, the home side were only able to restore the balance momentarily at 13-13. The Olympic champs opened another gap and never looked back to double their lead.

VNLFINALS2022_BOLOGNA_NT_ITA_FRA_9

After 1-1 in set three, France scored five in a row on Clevenot’s turn to serve, a blow Italy could never recover from. Shortly, another series of four consecutive points, this time with setter Antoine Brizard serving, extended the margin to 11-4. Coach Andrea Giani’s squad completely dominated on the court and cruised on to a 25-15 close to celebrate the victory.

“We won 3-0, but it was not easy at all! Maybe in the last set they gave up a little bit, but not in the first two sets. We were ready to play this game. We knew they would start really hard and the key was to start stronger than them. We expected them to play amazing in front of their fans, but we stayed focused on the game, relying on our own team spirit. If USA receive really well in the final, they have really good spikers and can play fast everywhere. So if we want to win, first we have to serve really strong, like we did tonight.” Nicolas Le Goff, middle blocker of France