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Hard Fall for U.S. Against Brazil

The women's volleyball team gains momentum but then stumbles to lose chance at a medal.

August 25, 2004|Bill Dwyre | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — It took Brazil until the wee hours of this morning, but for the second straight Olympics, its women's volleyball team knocked the U.S. out of a chance for a medal.

In a match that produced as high a level of play as there is likely to be in this tournament, the U.S. came back from two sets down to force a 15-point fifth set, then foundered suddenly, falling behind, 7-0. The final score was 25-22, 25-20, 22-25, 25-27, 15-6.

"When we forced the fifth set, I believed we had the match," said Tara Cross-Battle, a four-time Olympian from Cal State Long Beach and Houston. "I believed we were going to win.

"We had the momentum; that's what is so devastating about this."

They also had the reputation, being top-ranked in the world coming in, as well as having the player many consider to be the best, Logan Tom.

But by 12:30 a.m. in Athens, at a place called Peace and Friendship Stadium, Tom and the U.S. team had completed a flameout that left many speechless and crying. In many ways, this was more crushing than the two defeats they suffered in Sydney, when after reaching the semifinals, Russia beat them in five sets and Brazil took away the bronze medal in three.

That memory had been a driving force since, especially with returning players such as Tom, Cross-Battle, Stacy Sykora, Heather Bown, Keba Phipps and Robyn Ah Mow-Santos.

That memory probably also was a driving force in the incredible turnaround after losing the first two sets. They battled point-for-point in the third set until they were able to squeeze ahead, 24-21, when Brazil's Ana Chagas hit wide. On set point, Tayyiba Haneef scored on a block and the U.S. was still in it.

In the fourth set, the U.S. overcame a 6-1 run midway through the set to get to an extra-time set point at 26-25, and got it again on a block by Danielle Scott.

Early in the fifth, Brazil's Marianne Steinbrecher led with a couple of kills and Brazil continued to baffle the U.S. team with short sets. And before the veteran U.S. team could prepare for it, the match and their Olympics were over.

An unexpected element of the loss was the benching and momentary meltdown of Tom, the veteran from Stanford. She played well until midway in the third set, when she said something to the referee and was assessed a yellow card. Shortly after that, she was taken out by Coach Toshiaki Yoshida, returned several times only for short stints, and was never again a factor.

"The referee said I touched the net," she said. "I said something to him I shouldn't have. My bad."

Neither Tom nor Yoshida would say that the incident had been connected to her lack of playing time after that.

Brazil advanced to a semifinal match against Russia on Thursday.

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