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BEIJING 2008 VOLLEYBALL

Early risers win

Favorites Walsh and May-Treanor make short work of their 9 a.m. matches.

August 14, 2008|K.C. Johnson | Chicago Tribune

BEIJING -- Beach volleyball brings to mind a life of fun and sun, of leisure and lounging.

So what's up with all these 9 a.m. starts for gold-medal favorites Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor?

"I love them because I like to tell myself I'm more awake than everyone else," said the always-hyper Walsh. "I wake up so excited to play and eager. We basically have had two days off in between matches, which is enough to give me a heart attack. I've been dreaming of these Norwegians for two nights. It was great to finally see them."

And beat them. The 11th-seeded duo of Nila Haakedal and Ingrid Toerlen fell 21-12, 21-15 today as Walsh and May-Treanor concluded pool play with a 3-0 mark.

From the time Walsh powered home a spike to open the match to the moment her ace caught the backline to end it, only 37 minutes had elapsed.

The triumph marked the U.S. duo's 65th straight overall and 10th straight in the Olympics, a record.

"There's a reason they haven't lost a match in more than a year," Toerlen said.

With tennis star Lindsay Davenport and 91% humidity in the house at Chaoyang Park Beach Volleyball Ground, the U.S. team converted on 24 of 39 attack chances and tallied five aces.

Not surprisingly for a duo intent on perfection, those aren't the statistics with which they were concerned.

"Aside from passing, I think we played OK, but you have to pass," Walsh said. "They aced me at least five times and that can't happen. That's five easy points where we have no chance. We just have to keep the ball in play."

Some might attribute such sloppiness to start times more associated with breakfast than bumps and spikes. Yet May-Treanor echoed her partner's sentiments about embracing the first match of the day.

"It makes it fun because the crowd is here," May-Treanor said. "Sometimes, you get 9 a.m. matches and you wonder who is going to show up.

"But here the fans are loud, the music is going and it feels like a packed house."

The house will become even more packed as the duo's quest for gold continues. Pool play is over, and a draw near midnight local time today awaited to determine the next opponent.

Not knowing her next start time -- or even the day -- is driving Walsh crazy. But she knows this: Her team's game is peaking and the other U.S. entry, Nicole Branagh and Elaine Youngs, also will advance from pool play.

"We'd love to see each other in the gold-medal match," Walsh said. "They're a great team."

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