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Shoji digging U.S. volleyball victories at FIVB World Cup

 
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The U.S. men's national volleyball team made sure recent history with Iran wasn't going to be rewritten, beating the Iranians, 20-25, 25-19, 25-22, 25-21, in a FIVB World Cup match at Osaka Municipal Central Gymnasium in Japan.

The rivalry dates to the 2013 FIVB Grand Champions Cup, when the U.S. held match point against the Iranians, but Iran fought back to win the fourth and then the fifth sets. It continued in 2014 when the U.S. hosted Iran for four friendly matches and went 3-1, but then fell to Iran, 3-2, at the FIVB World Championship.

This year, the two teams faced each other in FIVB World League pool play four times and went 2-2, with each team winning its two home matches.

On Thursday, Iran looked to defeat the U.S. at another major FIVB tournament, but history resided with the Americans.

The U.S. improved its World Cup record to 7-0 with one match remaining in Osaka, a date with winless Tunisia (0-7) on Friday. Poland is also undefeated.

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.

In the first set, Iran's blocking and digging quieted the U.S. back-row attack. Meanwhile, the U.S. defense had trouble with Iran's fast offense and the U.S. serve struggled.

"They're a good serving team. We knew that from watching them on film," U.S. libero and Stanford grad Erik Shoji said. "They have really good jump serves and then their float serves are probably the best we've faced this tournament."

Shoji recorded a match-high nine digs in the match.

"The first set they came out strong and we made adjustments toward the end of the set; just little tweaks, taking a step here or there toward their tendencies," Shoji said.

U.S. setter Micah Christenson also had to adjust.

"They came at us with some interesting tactics and they executed really well. In the first set, they served well and they schemed well," Christenson said. "I'm really happy to say that we adjusted and figured out the organic flow of the game. We were really happy we cracked that code."

Although Iran still finished the match with 15 blocks, the U.S. offense, led by opposite Matt Anderson with a match-high 17 kills and two aces, came through and out-attacked Iran 58-38. The U.S. had a .413 hitting efficiency while Iran's was .346.

"With this team, there are so many tools, there are so many world class players, it's never a bad option to set anybody," Christenson said. "It's just about feeding them in the best positions that they can be."

Anderson was named the Most Impressive Player for the second match in a row.

— B.J. Evans/USA volleyball

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