VOLLEYBALL: Poland repeats as men’s World Champs; U.S. wins bronze!

Streaks are pretty common when it comes to the FIVB World Championships. After all, in the last quarter-century, Italy won three in a row in 1990-94-98, then Brazil won three straight from 2002-06-10 and Poland won in 2014.

So Poland had to win in 2018, right? And they did.

In the final pools, to determine the semifinalists:

∙ 26 September:
Pool I: Brazil d. Russia, 3-2
Pool J: Serbia d. Italy, 3-0

∙ 27 September:
Pool I: U.S. d. Russia, 3-0
Pool J: Poland d. Serbia, 3-0

∙ 28 September:
Pool I: Brazil d. U.S., 3-0
Pool J: Italy d. Poland, 3-2

That sent Brazil and Serbia into one semi and Poland and the U.S. into the other.

Brazil swept Serbia, 3-0, to land in the finals for the fifth straight time in the men’s World Championships. Poland and the U.S. went back and fourth, all the way to a fifth set, finally won by the Poles, 25-22, 20-25, 23-25, 25-20, 15-11. That put the Poles into a second straight final against Brazil and the U.S. into the bronze-medal match.

That turned out to be a historic occasion for John Speraw’s American squad, which won its first World Championships medal since 1994 with a 3-1 win by scores of 23-25, 25-17, 32-30 and 25-19 in a match which took more than two hours. Opposite Matt Anderson led the U.S. with 29 points, including 23 kills.

“It’s really hard to play bronze-medal matches,” said Speraw afterwards. “We unfortunately know that.

“It’s really tough when you have such an emotional match like we had last night versus Poland that went late into the night. I know I didn’t get to sleep until 4 in the morning. I am proud of the way we were able to come out and compete.

“It’s been a good year. Our program and Brazil’s were the only two that made it into both semifinals, [FIVB Nations League] and here. I think we’re in a position now where we are competing for tournaments. When that happens, sometimes you can win them and sometimes you have disappointing losses. That’s the risk you take by challenging the best in the world.”

Poland then dispatched Brazil in straight sets, winning by 28-26, 25-20 and 25-23 to repeat as World Champions. The final standings:

1. Poland
2. Brazil
3. United States
4. Serbia
5. Italy
6. Russia
7. France
8. Netherlands
9. Canada
10. Belgium
11. Bulgaria
12. Slovenia
13. Iran
14. Australia
15. Argentina
16. Finland
17. Japan
18. Cuba
19. Cameroon
20. Egypt
21. Puerto Rico
22. China
23. Tunisia
24. Dominican Rep.

The individual awards went to:

∙ Most Valuable Player: Bartosz Kurek (POL)
∙ Best Setter: Micah Christenson (USA)
∙ Best Outside Hitters: Michal Kubiak (POL) and Douglas Souza (BRA)
∙ Best Middle Blockers: Piotr Nowakowski (POL) and Lucas Saatkamp (BRA)
∙ Best Opposite: Matt Anderson (USA)
∙ Best Libero: Pawel Zatorski (POL)

Kurek was the top scorer with 171 points; Anderson finished second with 163 and U.S. Outside Hitter Aaron Russell was fourth with 153. The tournament, held in Italy and Bulgaria, had total attendance of 389,029, an average of 4,139 per game. The bronze-medal and gold-medal matches were played before a vociferous crowd of 12,011 in Turin.