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    Team USA opens Volleyball Nations League by sweeping Cuba
    • July 6, 2023

    ANAHEIM — Team USA outside hitter T.J. DeFalco seemed to be only half-joking when he outlined the squad’s daily routine leading up to the Volleyball Nations League this week.

    “Our routine after 8½ months playing internationally, our routine is to get to this coast as quickly as you can and to the beach,” the former Huntington Beach High and Long Beach State standout said.

    Team USA’s 3-0 victory against Cuba – 27-25, 25-17, 25-15 – in the teams’ VNL opener on Wednesday night at the Anaheim Convention Center wasn’t exactly a day at the beach, but it was the kind of gritty match the U.S. needed as it builds toward the Olympic qualifying tournament in Japan later this year (Sept. 30-Oct. 8).

    Struggling with Cuba’s serving early, the Americans, playing their first match on U.S. soil since 2019 and their first in Southern California, the sport’s talent hotbed, since 2016, trailed as late as 24-23 in the first set before capitalizing on a couple of breaks to clinch the set. Cuba was able to hang with the U.S. through the middle of the second set before outside hitter Matt Anderson gave Team USA some breathing room with a pair of kills and then closed the door on the Cubans with back-to-back aces to end the second set.

    After that, the third set was a mere formality.

    “We didn’t start that well in the first set and it kind of put us in a tough position because they were serving well and that put a lot of pressure on our side out,” said Anderson, who finished with a match-high 13 points. “But we held onto it and toward the end it just got to the point where we had to make the play. Fortunately for us, we did and trusted our system of play out there and returned a couple balls late in that first set to give us the set and kind of a deep breath, sigh, let it all out and move forward. If we can play like that and still win, let’s focus on a couple more plays and that second set we returned more and in that third set we kind of ran away with it.”

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    ​ Orange County Register