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U.S. Men Don't Have Enough Left for Bronze

American volleyball team falls quickly to Russia, not winning even a set in its last two matches after comeback victory over Greece.

August 30, 2004|Bill Dwyre | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — As it turns out, the big finish by the U.S. men's volleyball team Wednesday night against Greece was exactly that -- the finish. The U.S. men lost their next two matches in straight sets, including Sunday's Olympic bronze-medal game against Russia.

"We got to such a crescendo in that game against Greece that we may have left it all out there that night," American captain Lloy Ball said. "We never seemed to have recovered."

The Americans had done the seemingly impossible in that quarterfinal against the Greeks, rallying from two sets to one and 20-12 in the fourth set, as well as 12-9 in the fifth. But that apparently used up their allotment of miracles. They lost quickly to Brazil in the semifinals Friday night and folded in the third set of Russia's 25-22, 27-25, 25-16 win Sunday.

"This one leaves a bad taste in our mouths," said Ryan Millar, a middle blocker from Palmdale and Brigham Young. "Maybe it is something we can use in 2008. Maybe we'll fight harder in Beijing."

Ball, the inspirational leader of this team for the last three Olympics, won't be around for that. At 32, he will retire from the national team, having played 366 international matches.

"It was our last match of the Olympics and if you win your last match, you usually get to take home a present," he said. "But no present for us."

He did find satisfaction, however, in the progress USA men's volleyball -- a gold-medal winner in 1984 and '88, and a bronze medalist in '92 -- has made since its ninth-place finish in '96 and 11th place in 2000 at Sydney.

"At Sydney, I think we had a mental breakdown," he said. "It was a team that had more physicality than this one, but it lacked heart. This team had more collective heart, even though we lost the last two matches.

"I don't think we had great expectations going in here. Mostly, it was just to get out of the pool. If you had given me a final-four spot coming in, I would have grabbed that in a New York second."

The progress has been achieved under Doug Beal, who at 37 coached the U.S. to the 1984 gold medal in Los Angeles and is already in the Volleyball Hall of Fame. Beal returned to coach the team in '97.

"Coming into the Games, I thought we'd have to win five matches to get a medal," Beal said. They won four.

"I felt good about getting out of the pool, then we had that improbable night against Greece, and today, we played well for the first two sets."

The first set was hotly contested.

"A couple of swings and we get that one," Ball said.

The second set turned sour when a spike by Riley Salmon was called wide.

"It was in by six-eight inches," an angry Salmon said. "One official called it that way, but the other overruled him."

Then Ball, trying to position a teammate for a spike on Russia's set point, was ruled to have made illegal contact with the ball against the net. Point and set to Russia.

The third set slipped away quickly, Russia getting out to a 13-7 lead, then stretching it to 20-12.

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