There were no major comebacks needed this time.
The United States men’s national volleyball team, after rallying from two substantial first-game deficits to defeat The Netherlands during pool play in last summer’s Olympic Games in Athens, blistered the Dutch 25-20, 25-18, 28-26 in Thursday night’s season-opening exhibition at the Arena.
The Americans, behind the creative setting of Donald Suxho and the splendid all-around play of Riley Salmon, shook off some early anxiety to post a solid 3-0 victory that pleased first-year head coach Hugh McCutcheon and an appreciative crowd of 2,483.
“I was happy with the effort,” McCutcheon said. “I thought the guys we put out there played well and tried to do the things we wanted them to do.”
The U.S. outscored the Dutch 9-3 to close the first game, and then raced to a 17-9 lead in the second by scoring 12 of 15 points during one stretch. Salmon, a 6-foot-6 outside hitter from Laguna Niguel, Calif., had two of his team-high 12 kills and two service aces during the American’s decisive run.
“All of us looked a little anxious to get going,” admitted Salmon, who hit a colossal .610 for the match and also added a team-high five digs. “But once we settled down, we were really good; really focused.”
“I really liked the way Riley played,” McCutcheon said. “He’s not as big and strong as these other guys out there, but he can really play the game at a high level.”
The Americans, who gave away a late lead before closing strong to win the third game, did a great job of varying their passes and sets against The Netherlands’ tall blockers.
“We had a little bit of scouting going,” admitted Suxho, a former USC standout, who was born in Korce, Albania. “We knew their big guys can not move very fast, so we tried to mix up the offense a little bit more and make them guess every time.
“They’re big; they can reach. And if your offense is static, they’ll be very good blockers. We were just trying to be a little diverse.”
The United States, using a mixture of seasoned Olympic veterans and relative rookies to the international scene, hit .500 as a team to The Netherlands’ .360. The Americans finished with eight total blocks, including two each by Salmon and 6-6 outside hitter Jim Polster, who also contributed nine kills and hit .390.
McCutcheon said he is pleased with the mix of players he brought with him to start the season.
“We have some guys from the Olympic Games who are here, and then we have some greenhorns,” he said. “I like it that way, because I think there’s a lot of good lessons the old guys can teach the young guys.”
The Dutch were led by 6-10 outside hitter Kay van Dijk, who had 12 kills and hit .240, but they struggled with their ball control and committed a number of uncharacteristic service errors.
“They’re a big, strong team, and I think they live and die by their serve a little bit,” McCutcheon explained. The two teams will travel to Boise for tonight’s second of three matches that comprise the U.S. team’s Pacific Northwest tour.
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