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SYDNEY 2000 SUMMER OLYMPICS | VOLLEYBALL

Americans Perfectly Happy Now

September 23, 2000|MIKE KUPPER | TIMES ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR

SYDNEY, Australia — Cuba, Russia, Brazil. Don't forget Italy, and watch out for China.

The United States?

Well . . .

So went the talk before the Olympics.

Funny how things turn out. The team that didn't figure in the talk suddenly is the talk of the women's volleyball tournament.

That, of course, would be the U.S., the team that not only thinks it can, but does . . . and keeps on doing.

The American women kept moving right along Friday night, hardly drawing a deep breath in dispatching host Australia, 25-11, 25-17, 25-10. That was match victory No. 4, and they have lost only one of 13 games.

Now for the hard part.

In their Pool A finale Sunday, the U.S. will play Brazil, which is also 4-0, has yet to lose a set and warmed up for the Americans by thumping Croatia on Friday. Then, win or lose against Brazil, it's on to the quarterfinals, where Cuba and Russia, the class of Pool B, will be lurking.

So the U.S. might be in a wee bit of trouble, right?

Wrong, says Brad Saindon, the American coach of the Australians, who were beaten earlier in the draw by Brazil.

"I'd have to give the USA the advantage right now," he said. "They're the best we've seen."

And wrong too, says Mick Haley, coach of the surprising Americans.

"Actually, we're pretty comfortable with Brazil, except from the standpoint that they're playing pretty well," he said. "But this is really going to be a pretty fun match because both of us are going to go on [to the medal round], win or lose, and [neither of us is] going to have to play Cuba or Russia in the first go-around, so that's a breath of fresh air.

"I just think, going into the match with Brazil, we'll try to change a few things and just see what happens. But we may see them again [in the medal round], so we maybe don't want to do everything we could do."

One immediate advantage he sees is the presence of Danielle Scott, who had another big game for the Americans on Friday with 15 kills, a couple of blocks and a service ace. She and Logan Tom, who had 14 winners and two blocks, dominated the net and Scott's play there might give the U.S. an edge.

"Danielle . . . , she goes up, she hangs and then she hits," Haley said. "Most [outside hitters] don't have hang time like that, so [opponents'] block timing has to be absolutely perfect."

Friday's game gave Haley an opportunity to use all but one of his players and he rested Tara Cross-Battle, the team's senior player at 32, purposely, for the second time in three matches.

"Tara's juices are going to be flowing when we play a top-four team," Haley said. "We found when we give her blocks of rest, like 48 hours or so, that she really comes back strong. We may not be able to give her any [more] rest, so if we were going to rest her, it seemed wise to rest her early. Without question, she's a steadying force out there."

So, says Haley, bring on Brazil and bring on the medal round.

"We have a chance to be successful now, after all this," he said. "I don't think people gave us much of a chance and we didn't blow our own horn, on purpose, because we wanted to kind of come in here as a surprise so we wouldn't have too much heat to start with. I think we're right where we want to be."

Except the heat is going to start rising any minute now.

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