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Digging deep, U.S. avoids a sand trap

August 15, 2008|K.C. Johnson | Chicago Tribune

BEIJING -- The blue skies had appeared, the humidity had lifted and in the first few hours of an otherwise idyllic 30th birthday, Kerri Walsh faced something she didn't necessarily ask for or expect:

Five set points.

Deficits are rare for presumptive women's beach volleyball gold-medal favorites Walsh and Misty May-Treanor, who haven't lost an international match in 66 tries or an international set in two months.

So the U.S. duo took a deep breath, brushed some sand off and rallied for a 24-22 triumph over Belgium's Liesbet Van Breedam and Liesbeth Mouha. Walsh and May-Treanor then polished off the straight-sets victory with a 21-10 cakewalk, moving to 4-0 in Olympic play without losing a set.

"Just side out and play really simple volleyball," said Walsh when asked her mind-set when facing defeat. "The simpler your mind-set is at that time, the better it is."

Fittingly, both U.S. players contributed on the point of the match. Tied at 22-22 after eliminating the fifth and final set point, May-Treanor somehow got a forearm on a Van Breedam spike to keep the point alive, which Walsh finished by blocking another Van Breedam spike.

An unforced error by Van Breedam finished the match.

"We've been in situations like that before, even in third sets, and come back and won," May-Treanor said. "Getting pushed to the max will help us. That's how we got to the level we're at. Kerri and I find ways to do it. Don't ask us how. We just do it."

The U.S. duo of Nicole Branagh and Elaine Youngs also advanced to the quarter with a 21-15, 21-13 victory over Cuba's Dalixia Fernandez Grasset and Tamara Larrea Peraza.

The women's draw for the round of 16 was finalized so late that the teams playing morning matches had little preparation -- or sleep. "I got about five hours," Youngs said.

With the rest of her day free, Walsh planned to lift weights -- "Gotta stay strong now that I'm 30," she joked -- attend the U.S.-China women's indoor volleyball match and then eat some Peking duck.

Nobody gave her presents today. "We'll give her a belated birthday present hopefully on the 21st," Youngs said, smiling. "A silver medal."

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