In the men’s Volleyball Nations League (VNL) in 2022, the United States of America and France will compete head-to-head for the championship. Torey Defalco, an outside hitter for the United States, served up six aces, five of which came in set three alone, as the team defeated Poland 3-0 (25-22, 25-23, 25-13) in the first semifinal match played on Saturday in Bologna.
This marks the second time in VNL history that the United States of America has advanced to the championship match. France advanced to their second final in the history of the competition by sweeping Italy in the second semifinal match in straight sets, 3-0 (25-22, 25-20, 25-15), and displaying some excellent serving. This allowed France to advance to their second final in the history of the competition.
Defalco topped the scoring sheet during the first semifinal with a total of 13 points, thanks to his six aces, six attack kills, and one stuff block. This put him in first place overall. Middle blocker David Smith also had a tremendous match, contributing 10 points to the victory for the United States of America. His performance included three blocks, as well as an ace serve. The Polish team’s most productive player was their captain, Bartosz Kurek, who finished the game with 11 points to his name.
Kurek served a perfect shot of the net to put Poland ahead by two points, 3-1, in the first set of the match. Unexpectedly, that turned out to be his final point in the set. The United States of America evened the score at 6-6 with a kill by Jeffrey Jendryk down the middle. It was the score for score up until the timeout for technical reasons. After the score was tied at 12-12, an American breakpoint was earned thanks to an off-the-block hit by opposite Kyle Ensing. After that, he delivered a tremendous service, which opened the door for the setter Micah Christenson to blast the overpass and take a 14-12 lead for his team. However, Poland responded with a four-point sequence, highlighted by an ace from middle blocker Jakub Kochanowski, to regain the lead for the final time in the set at 17-16. The playmaker eliminated another break point with a spike on two to extend the lead to 16-13. The rest of the set was easily won by the United States of America, who were led by their captain Smith, who was on fire in the middle of the net. Defalco’s ace served as the delivery of the set point at 24-21, and outside hitter, Aaron Russell’s off-the-block hit turned it into a 25-22 victory for Defalco.
Kochanowski started off the second set by serving an ace that was nicely positioned. Later on, he increased the distance between them by extending the lead to 13-11 with a monstrous block, and Kurek increased the lead even further by pounding it down for 18-15. However, the United States of America rallied back to tie the score at 20-20. Middle blocker Smith was in a position to set the ball up for outside hitter Ensing, who put it away to give the United States a 21-20 advantage after a fantastic dig by libero Erik Shoji. The Americans maintained their command throughout the decisive round and won the match by a score of 25-23 thanks to a massive block by setter Christenson.
Following a string of blunders on the part of their opponent, the United States of America took a 5-2 lead in the third set. The score is now 8-3 thanks to two aces in a row delivered by Defalco. The score is now 10-4 thanks to a direct serving point contributed by Smith. When Defalco went back to the serving line at 17-10, any faint dreams that the world champions could still be able to make a comeback in this match were quickly extinguished. After Aaron Russell tipped the overpass on Defalco’s first powerful serve, TJ went on to fire another three aces in a row to increase the advantage to 21-10. Aaron Russell tipped the overpass on Defalco’s first powerful serve. Another goal was scored by substitute Kyle Russell to bring the score to 23-11, and after that, it took only a couple more minutes to put an end to everything. The match was won by Jendryk with a powerful shot into the middle for 24-12, and a mistaken serve by Poland resulted in the game-winning point at 25-13.
The most impressive aspect of France’s performance in the second semifinal was there serving when they recorded 11 aces to Italy’s paltry two. France defeated Italy in every facet of the match. Their opposite Jean Patry led the team in scoring with 16 points, followed by their outsides Trevor Clevenot and Earvin Ngapeth, each of whom scored 14 points. On the Italian side, only Alessandro Michieletto scored in double figures, tallying 10 points. He was the only player to do so.
France defeated Italy in the first set, thanks in large part to the leadership of their star outside Ngapeth. They jumped out to an early 2-0 lead but then had to fight back from a 4-2 deficit against the Italians. Later on in the set, the French team started to pull ahead with a three-point lead at 16-13, but the home team not only caught up to them at 16-16, but they also created their own 20-18 lead. Following the side out, France hammered out another four points in a row with Patry behind the serving line to break away with a 23-20 edge, and shortly after, they finished the set by winning it 25-22.
Patry and Ngapeth continued their impressive play from the first set into the second. While the outside of the court generated three aces, the opposite side of the court contributed up to eight points toward France’s 25-20 victory. At the beginning of the set, Italy was able to grab a two-point lead, but France swiftly came back and maintained their advantage throughout the rest of the game. The home team was only able to temporarily restore the equilibrium when they tied the score at 13-13 despite the support they received from the packed stands of Italian fans. The reigning Olympic champions extended their lead and never looked back as they doubled their advantage over their competitors.
Following a 1-1 tie in the third set, France captured five consecutive points when Clevenot was serving, dealing Italy a blow from which it was unable to recover. In a short amount of time, another run of four straight points, this time with setter Antoine Brizard serving, pushed the score farther ahead, bringing the score to 11-4. On the court, the team coached by Andrea Giani totally destroyed their competition, and they strolled to a 25-15 triumph to celebrate their success.
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