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For U.S., match was the least of it

August 24, 2008|Melissa Isaacson | Chicago Tribune

BEIJING -- For the U.S. women's volleyball team, it was easier playing Brazil than describing the wide range of emotions they were feeling Saturday night.

And they lost to Brazil.

But that's the sort of night, and tournament, it was.

The Americans were frustrated at seeing their gold-medal quest end with a close-fought fourth game before Brazil seized control and the match, 3-1, at Beijing's Capital Gymnasium.

But they were happy for their program, gratified by winning the first Olympic medal in women's volleyball since a bronze in 1992, and completing the best run in the sport since their silver in 1984.

They felt pride in a program that will send the men's team to its gold-medal match today.

But there were tears on the podium and waves of sadness washing over them anew as their thoughts drifted to their friend and former Olympian Elisabeth Bachman McCutcheon, whose mother Barbara was injured and father Todd killed in an apparently random stabbing Aug. 9, just hours after the opening ceremony.

The tragedy was felt by the entire U.S. volleyball family, as Elisabeth's husband, Hugh McCutcheon, is the men's head coach and the family has avidly supported both teams.

"There were things we had to put on the back burner that have come forward now that everything is said and done," said spiker Logan Tom, fighting back tears.

U.S. players wrote the word "Wiz," Elisabeth's nickname, on various pieces of clothing and on their hands.

Elisabeth, they said, kept in touch via e-mail and sent a good-luck message to the team, which they read just before the match.

"She told us when she's able to talk to the team through e-mail, it brings a smile to her face," Jennifer Joines said.

"We just felt we had to uplift her and her family with volleyball," she said. "That family loves and supports volleyball more than anyone else."

The U.S. team had hoped to return its coach, Jenny Lang Ping, a Beijing native and a star on the '84 Chinese Olympic champions, to the gold-medal podium.

The 25-15, 18-25, 25-13, 25-21 loss Saturday night marked the fourth straight time the U.S. concluded the Olympics with a loss to Brazil, which denied the Americans a shot at the bronze in Athens in '04. It was the first women's volleyball gold for Brazil, playing in its first final.

"The thing about Brazil is that they're very consistent, they make very few errors, they play steady volleyball, and it's hard to beat a team when they do that and you're prone to some ups and downs," Tom said.

The Brazilians, the tournament's top-seeded team, won 22 straight games in these Games before losing the second game Saturday.

Brazil controlled the third game, but still there was hope as the U.S. had a 6-1 record with three of its victories coming in five games after trailing, 2-1.

"Toward the end Brazil capitalized, obviously," Tom said, "but we never stopped fighting."

The fourth game was the tightest, with neither team enjoying more than a two-point advantage up to the point the U.S. led, 18-16. The teams were tied at 18, 19, 20, 21, but two big blocks by Brazil's Fabiana Claudino gave Brazil the edge it needed as it pulled out the decisive game.

"I think we exceeded other people's expectations," setter Lindsey Berg said. "Deep down inside, we knew we could be in this match. We made it and left it out there, and we're so proud of ourselves."




*--* Medal winners G: Brazil S: United States B: China *--*

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