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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

U.S. Men Are Young but Appear Ready

Volleyball: After early deficit, a surprisingly patient team wins, 15-13, 15-6, 15-8, over Poland.

July 22, 1996|MIKE HISERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — The turning point for the U.S. men's volleyball team came early in its debut, a three-game sweep over Poland, Sunday night at the Omni.

It was on the first serve by Poland, and it led to the first play called for first-time Olympian Dan Landry via the first set by fellow rookie Lloy Ball, resulting in the Americans' first major mistake.

Ball hit the ball, by his own estimate, "about 100 mph" over Landry's head and out of bounds.

First point for Poland.

But then a funny thing happened. Landry, a former UCLA All-American, rolled his eyes and smiled. The rest of the team laughed.

This U.S. team may be young, but at least it has a sense of humor.

And some patience.

Despite the botched play, and despite trailing in the first game, 9-6, Coach Fred Sturm stuck with his young guns and they responded with a 15-13, 15-6, 15-8 victory before 14,200, the second-largest crowd to watch the U.S. team at home.

Bryan Ivie, among only four U.S. players with Olympic experience, said the team's tentative start was understandable.

"I don't think any of us has played in front of a crowd like this at home," he said. "It just took a while to settle each other down."

Faced by Damian Dacewicz and Marcin Nowak, a pair of seven-footers on the Polish front line, the Americans eventually found success by using middle blockers Ivie and Jeff Nygaard as decoys to open up hitting lanes from other angles.

"They're big, but they're slow," Ivie said of Poland's towering middle blockers.

Even with limited opportunities, Ivie, former two-time NCAA Player of the Year for USC, still managed 16 kills. Opposite hitter Mike Lambert of Stanford, the only U.S. player who still has college eligibility, had match highs of 24 kills and five blocks.

Nygaard, yet another first-time Olympian, contributed eight kills, four blocks and a match-high three service aces.

"I wasn't getting set much so [on offense] I wasn't much of a factor," he said, "so I tried to pick up other ways."

Once the U.S. got going, Sturm apparently liked the looks of things, because he never substituted.

"I think it would have been a mistake to take someone out early when we were struggling because we needed to get that out of the way to get going," Ivie said. "If you take someone out, you don't know what will happen the next time when you put them back in."

Next up for the U.S., on Tuesday, will be Argentina, which defeated Brazil in four games Sunday. That will be a rematch of the 1995 Pan American Games' gold-medal match won by Argentina in a memorably intense five games on its home floor in Mar del Plata.

This time, the U.S. has the home-court edge. But are the relatively inexperienced Americans ready for such an early acid test?

Based on Sunday's victory, team captain Bob Ctvrtlik is hopeful.

"We have a 3-0 victory under our belts," he said. "Now we've got a bunch of Olympic veterans out there."

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