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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | Volleyball

It's a Little Too Much, Too Late for U.S. Women in Volleyball

July 25, 1996|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — As made-for-TV entertainment, the U.S. women's volleyball team was terrific Wednesday night. The American performance was stirring, emotional, even fierce.

But as a team trying to march toward a medal, the U.S. has some work ahead, and Coach Taras Liskevych gathered his players in a hallway deep within the Omni to discuss it after China had handed them their first loss.

The Americans' dramatic attempt to come back after scoring only 10 points over the first two games fell short, 15-8, 15-2, 12-15, 15-12.

After surging from behind to beat The Netherlands two days earlier, they could not repeat the feat against China, a much more powerful team that is now the only unbeaten team in Pool A, at 3-0. The U.S. fell to 2-1 and will play Japan on Friday. Brazil is the last unbeaten team in Pool B. The top four teams in each six-team pool will advance.

Down by 11-4 in the decisive fourth game, the Americans threatened to force a fifth, fighting back to 11-11 and staving off four match points before losing.

"You can't come out like we did, very flat emotionally, not communicating as a team," Liskevych said. "We had some bad passing and didn't go after the ball. Do that against China, and you're in for a long night--no, a short one.

"I was proud of the way we came back in the third and fourth games," added Liskevych, whose players waved their appreciation to the enthusiastic crowd of 15,100, even after the loss. "We need to play with that kind of emotion and aggressiveness from the beginning. You can't wait for the third or fourth game."

Smothered by the blocking and digging defense of the Chinese in the first two games, the Americans gathered themselves in the third to avoid being swept.

After an embarrassing 15-2 second game, Tammy Liley helped bring the U.S. back with some monster spikes, finishing with 16 kills. Elaina Oden led the U.S. with 20 kills and three blocks. Slowly, the confusion and unforced errors began to diminish.

"If the ball's in your area, you've got to say, 'I've got it,' and take it," said Liley, a veteran of two previous Olympics. "There's a lack of communication. I think maybe we were a little more nervous because we knew they were better than Holland, better than Ukraine.

"This is it. It's all we're here for. You can't wait and be hesitant."

Even in the decisive fourth game, the U.S. confusion showed. The Americans looked befuddled during a stretch when China scored five consecutive points for a 9-2 lead, including a service ace on which the Americans were caught looking at one another.

Liskevych continued his pattern of going to the bench freely, this time replacing setter Lori Endicott with Yoko Zetterlund and calling on Danielle Scott and veteran Paula Weishoff as well.

Scott finished with 13 kills, trailing only Oden and Liley on the U.S. team. Sun Yue had 26 for China.

China had won four of five matches against the U.S. this year, sweeping a four-match series in Southern California in May before losing to the U.S. last month.

"I thought it was a classic example of two teams that really know each other and know how to prepare, which they did," said Caren Kemner, a 31-year-old former national team star who comes off the bench now.

Kemner called it a frustrating loss, saying, "The thing we've been learning about ourselves is that we're dealing with a lot of emotion. We're not physically tired, we're emotionally tired.

"At the same time, I saw the kind of play late in the match that is what the Olympics are about, coming back and playing to the end."

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