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U.S. Team Digs Deep Against Dutch

Volleyball: American women find Netherlands less than accommodating but win.

July 23, 1996|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — Some of the giddiness of their Olympic debut a few days ago in front of a wildly supportive crowd slipped away in a hurry for the U.S. women's volleyball team, which stumbled into a hole quickly Monday night against the Netherlands.

Their easy victory over Ukraine didn't prepare the Americans for a much better Dutch team, which won the first game and grabbed a 6-0 lead in the second before the U.S. team stirred.

The Americans awoke in time, though, making a ferociously emotional comeback to win in four games, 12-15, 15-10, 17-15, 15-7.

The crowd of 14,200 at the Omni created such an atmosphere that even the Dutch players clapped in appreciation after the match.

The turning point was a marathon third game in which the United States took a 13-6 lead only to have the Netherlands come back and serve for the game five times. "That was the key, those five game points," U.S. Coach Terry Liskevych said. "We just kept siding out and siding out. We find a way to win. This is a team of veterans, and that allows us to bend but not break."

The Netherlands didn't break easily, holding firm until the Americans' fourth chance to put the game away.

Tara Cross-Battle had 25 kills and four blocks for the United States, but the player who led the fight was veteran Elaina Oden, 29, who had 17 kills and four blocks, slinging her fist with emotion during a 6-0 American run in the third game.

"She gets fired up after a stuff block or after she hammers one," opposite hitter Tammy Liley said. "She brings a lot of emotion to our team."

Said Oden: "I'm just really proud of this team for persevering. That third game, they did not lose that game. We won it."

The Americans had trouble passing and looked confused at times early in the match. Liskevych, who substitutes liberally, quickly pulled outside hitter Teee Williams for Elaine Youngs, the former UCLA All-American from El Toro.

"Elaine Youngs did a great job coming in for Teee Williams, and she really carried our outside hitting with Tara Cross-Battle," Liskevych said. "That shows the depth of our team."

Youngs, who stayed in for Williams in the third game, said, "I was fired up to go out there and try to turn things around. . . . I wanted to do what I could to help the team."

Williams is still nursing some soreness in her back from an injury in recent months.

"I don't know, I've been struggling early," Williams said. "Any day you have a bad day, that could be your starting spot. I'm not back to where I want to be, but that's not an excuse."

Though the Dutch are 0-2 in round-robin play, they are an improving team on the international scene, winning the European championship last year. They held the Americans in check with their digging, and kept setting for Henriette Weersing, a long-armed outside hitter who had 24 kills.

Cintha Boersma, a middle blocker on the Dutch team, said she was proud of their performance, but "I'm really disappointed in the third set. Otherwise it would have really been a different match."

The United States, picked to win the bronze, is 2-0 in the five-game round-robin portion of the tournament and faces China, the only other unbeaten team in Pool A, in its next game Wednesday.

The top medal contenders, Cuba and Brazil, are both in Pool B. Brazil upset Cuba, 15-11, 15-10, 15-4, Monday.

"It's tough," Liley said. "There are 12 great teams in this tournament, and we're not realistically going to win 3-0 every night. It's good to play matches like this though, because you're going to be tight. We've got to get used to the pressure."

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