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ATHENS 2004

Pumped-Up Metzger and Holdren Upset Germans

No. 12-seeded American duo clinches a quarterfinal berth in beach volleyball.

August 21, 2004|Mike Penner | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — Full-contact beach volleyball made its Olympic debut here Friday, if only for a fleeting moment, leaving Americans Stein Metzger and Dax Holdren in a sand-covered dog pile and Germans Markus Dieckmann and Jonas Reckermann out of the tournament.

At match point, with the Americans on the verge of a considerable upset, Metzger scrambled to keep the play alive, then pounded a deep kill shot that exploded on Dieckmann. As soon as the ball skidded through Dieckmann's hands, Metzger turned, wide-eyed, toward Holdren and proceeded to level his partner with a delirious open-field tackle that sent Holdren flying and ought to earn Metzger a tryout with the Chargers.

"We put a lot of emotion into this game," Metzger said, stating the very obvious. "A lot of energy. There were so many ups and downs and I struggled so much in that second [set].

"To come through and pull out the big plays at the end to make it happen, we were obviously very happy."

Metzger's kill sealed a 21-16, 19-21, 15-13 victory over the No. 4-seeded German team, clinching an improbable quarterfinal berth for the No. 12-seeded Americans. Metzger and Holdren will next play the Swiss team of Patrick Heuscher and Stefan Kobel, with the winner advancing to the medal round.

Adding to the emotional overload for Holdren and Metzger: They were coming off an embarrassing defeat in the final match of pool play and had they lost again Friday, the U.S., which invented the sport, would not have a team in the men's Olympic beach volleyball quarterfinals.

The other U.S. men's team, Dain Blanton and Jeff Nygaard, went 0-3 in pool play.

"We're the U.S.'s one last shot on the men's side," Metzger said. "We feel like it's up to us to carry on the torch and get into that medal round, represent the U.S."

American men won the first two Olympic beach volleyball tournaments in 1996 and 2000, but as pool play concluded at Beach Volleyball Center on Thursday, the streak appeared all but over. Blanton and Nygaard finished last in their pool and Metzger and Holdren lost to the top-ranked Brazilian tandem of Ricardo Santos and Emanuel Rego, 21-17, 21-10.

After bouncing back so impressively against the Germans, Holdren was asked if he and Metzger were "sandbagging" the previous night.

Holdren responded with a weary laugh.

"I wish I could say we were sandbagging," he said. "I was really, really disappointed in my play [Thursday] night and I wanted to come out today extra focused with a lot of energy.

"We were -- especially me -- very flat last night. I don't know if it was knowing that we were already in [the round of 16] or whatnot, but I was extremely disappointed. And I wanted to play a much better game today."

Friday, Holdren and Metzger rallied from 9-6 deficit in the third set to pull out the match, leaving the Germans to second-guess their performance.

"We didn't play as well as we could have," Reckermann said. "We didn't have a good rhythm."

Dieckmann blamed himself.

"I simply played badly," he said. "We did everything possible to make it. We were close at the end, and that is what makes me furious."

All things considered, Holdren didn't mind finishing the match flat on his back, sacked into the sand by his blitzing teammate.

"Every win for us is huge," Holdren said. "I mean, it's single elim -- you lose and you're done. You have to put everything into it.

"If you don't, you'll have regrets after the game and you've got to live with that."

The Swiss team of Heuscher and Kobel advanced with a 21-18, 21-19 victory over Portugal's Miguel Maia and Joao Brenha. The quarterfinal is scheduled for Sunday.

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