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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

Growth Spurts Ends for U.S. Just Short of Bronze Medal

Young Americans make progress in tournament, but lose to Brazil in three games. Cuba beats Russia in five to win the gold.

September 30, 2000|MIKE KUPPER | TIMES ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR

SYDNEY, Australia — The surprise team of the women's Olympic volleyball tournament ran out of steam--and surprises--today in the bronze medal game.

The mostly young Americans lost in straight sets for the first time in the tournament, and for the second time to Brazil's veteran team, 25-18, 25-22 and 25-21. Brazil also beat the U.S. in the last match of pool play.

Top-ranked Cuba, which had beaten Brazil in the semifinals, was surprised by Russia in the first two games of the title match, then came back to win the gold medal, 25-27, 32-34, 25-19, 25-18, 15-7.

The U.S. was hoping for bronze, but came up short.

"Brazil is a difficult team to beat but it's not impossible," said Tara Cross-Battle, the team's veteran outside hitter. "We were just off today. We were excited about winning a medal and we came in ready to play but maybe we were too excited."

Whatever else they were, the U.S. women were slow on the uptake at the start of the first two games, letting the Brazilians run off strings of points. In the third game, when the Americans battled back from another slow start, Brazil called a timeout, scored four of the next six points and took the game to set point before allowing the Americans a faint glimmer of hope.

Basically, the U.S. had no one to match the Brazilian trio of Virna Dias, Erika Coimbra and Leila Barros. They scored 15, 14 and 13 points, respectively, Dias and Coimbra catching the Americans out of position time and again with rockets from the backcourt. Cross-Battle had 13 kills for the U.S. but her usual partner in prime play, Danielle Scott, had her most forgettable afternoon of the tournament, her frustration growing as she missed shots and blocks.

Even with all their problems, the Americans went down swinging.

With Brazil at set point in the third game, and clearly on the way to victory, the U.S. scored four consecutive points before Dias spiked home the winner off Sarah Noriega at the net.

"That last game, we couldn't finish it," Brazil's Coach Bernardo Rezende said.

But the Brazilians did, the U.S. spurt coming much too late.

"It wasn't until the end of the third game that we got into a flow," said Noriega, who played at Loyola Marymount. "I think if we could have won a game early, then we would have gone to five and won a medal. This is going to be a team to be reckoned with in the next Olympics."

Actually, it was in these Games. Coming in ranked 10th in the world, the U.S. women lost only to Brazil, which had been ranked third, and Russia, which had been ranked second.

"We finished fourth but our team has come so far," said a teary-eyed Logan Tom. "We really wanted a medal, but fourth is better than fifth."

Coach Mick Haley, who is leaving the national program to coach at USC, had nothing but praise for his team--and Brazil's.

"I think it's pretty exceptional to have a team finish third and lose only four sets in the whole tournament," he said, alluding to Brazil. "I think that's a phenomenal effort. When we started our program in 1997, we targeted Brazil as the team we most wanted to be like."

His own team?

"I can't say enough about their effort," he said. "They play every game and they do everything they can to beat you. I think our opponents appreciated us because we made them work."

Except for Cross-Battle, 32, and Scott, 28, the Americans are young enough to stay together as a team, and Cross-Battle hopes they will.

"If they stay together, they'll be a great team," she said. "This was a very successful team, in the fact that we came in 10th and finished fourth, and had a great opportunity to win a medal."

Cross-Battle and Scott will shortly return to Brazil, where they play professionally. Cross-Battle said it would be her last season.

"Then I'm going to go home [to San Antonio] and have a baby," she said.

For the Cubans, it was their third straight gold medal in the Olympics.

Cuba has won every major international competition since the 1992 Games, building a 35-3 record in world championships and Olympics.

Cuba had a 24-21 lead in the opener before letting it slip away. In the second game, Cuba led, 24-23, but again failed to close. Both teams fought for and lost four more game points until Russia pulled ahead, 33-32, on a kill by Elena Godina.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Medal Winners

Women's Volleyball

Gold: Cuba

Silver: Russia

Bronze: Brazil

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