It is rarely easy to beat the home team, but the U.S. men's national volleyball team accomplished the feat Wednesday, defeating Japan, 25-23, 21-25, 25-11, 25-14, in an FIVB World Cup match at Hiroshima Green Arena.
Teams at the World Cup play 11 matches in 16 days in a round-robin format. The top two teams qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The U.S. (2-0) will play Canada (1-1) on Thursday.
For a second straight night, serving played a key role for the U.S., which led in aces 11-1. David Lee finished with three.
"It's not just today that my serving has been on fire," Lee said. "I think it's been pretty consistent the last two days. My goal is to be aggressive. I was having a lot of success and I was keeping my errors down so I just continued to be aggressive until I made a mistake, which didn't happen."
Lee's three aces tied for the team lead along with Micah Christenson, who set the team to a .436 hitting efficiency. Lee also had four of the United States' 13 blocks on the night. The United States' opposite Matt Anderson led all scorers with 20 points on 18 kills and two aces.
Outside hitters Taylor Sander (14 points) and Aaron Russell (12 points) and middle blocker Max Holt (eight points) also came through in the clutch for the U.S. libero Erik Shoji, a Stanford grad, led all players in digs with 12.
Japan's Masahiro Yanagida, who led his team with 14 points on 13 kills and one ace and didn't start the fourth set, was named the match's Most Impressive Player.
An estimated 3,900 fans cheered on the home team along with at least five people dressed as mascots and the young male members of the Japanese musical group "Sexy Zone" who performed prior to the match.
U.S. coach John Speraw was most impressed by his team's improved play in the third and fourth sets. He credited Japan's great play, particularly in serving and blocking, with his team's error-prone play in the first two sets.
"Between their serve and defense, Japan put a lot of pressure on us the first two sets," Speraw said. "We got our serve going in the third set, which really changed the momentum of the game. I thought we got better as the match progressed of taking care of some of the fundamentals."
Russell, who scored the majority of his points in the third and fourth sets, credited the team's confidence in its preparation.
"We stayed true to our passing lineup and our scouting report," Russell said. "We knew they were come out and play hard and served tough. All we did was fight off some tough serves and they weren't able to bring it the rest of the night."
Things don't get any easier on Thursday when the U.S. Men will face Canada, which beat the U.S. at the World Cup qualifying tournament in May in Detroit.