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U.S. Stuffs Croatia in Another Upset


SYDNEY, Australia — What are the odds that a group of vastly different female volleyball players--all but two of whom have never been to an Olympics--would get thrown together just in time to win three consecutive Olympic matches?

About the same odds as one of them, more than two years ago, naming her new dog "Sydney."

Meet the You've-Got-To-Be-Dreaming Team, the U.S. women's volleyballers who pulled their second major upset Wednesday by sweeping Croatia, 25-19, 25-18, 25-16.

The one with the dog is captain Allison Weston, who was so focused on this moment that she pinned her hopes on her Russian shepherd in February 1998.

"It reminded me of what I had to do," she said.

Little did she know, however, that most of the players on that year's team would be gone by now.

In revamping their tired program--one bronze in the last three Olympics--the U.S. volleyball bosses created an odd mixture of world-class veterans and kids.

The results here have been upsets of higher-ranked China and Croatia, and a near-certain spot in the quarterfinals against a beatable opponent such as Korea or Italy.

Nobody wants to think beyond that. Although Wednesday's stunning win will make people wonder.

"Just when I think we have played as good as we can play . . . I think, maybe we have not seen our best play yet," said Coach Mick Haley, who will be taking over USC's team after the Olympics.

Added veteran Tara Cross-Battle: "The public doesn't expect much from us, we don't have any pressure on us, we're just having fun."

It wasn't a real joy for Croatia Wednesday, as it was dominated in every aspect, with the U.S. team connecting on 75 attacks while Croatia managed only 53.

And to think, coming into the game, Croatia was also unbeaten here.

"We just got up on the left side of the bed today," said its star and captain, Barbara Jelic.

The way the U.S. is playing, their women are soaring out of bed and spiking the pillow shams.

While the leaders are former Long Beach State teammates Cross-Battle and Danielle Scott, the hottest player is Stanford sophomore Logan Tom.

She lived up to her billing as the future of women's volleyball by leading the U.S. with 12 attacks, then typifying the emotions of this team by shyly giggling through the entire postmatch news conference.

Could it be that these women are playing so well because they have yet to pinch themselves?

"Sort of," said Cross-Battle, smiling wide enough to mean, "Exactly."

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