U.S. volleyball player Donald Suxho, center, reacts in front of teammates… (Andrew Medichini / Associated…)
LONDON — — The U.S. stunned the men's volleyball world in the 2008 Olympics, streaking to its first gold medal in 20 years.
The only surprise this time was how quickly the U.S. was ousted.
Italy ended the U.S. Olympic run in the quarterfinals, 28-26, 25-20, 25-20, in a too-bad-to-be-true match Wednesday at Earls Court.
It was strange, accurate and a total reversal of what happened in Beijing, when Clay Stanley's kill sent the U.S. into a celebratory frenzy.
Four years later, the U.S. earned the top seeding after preliminary play but somehow never won a set after that.
Stanley had 12 kills and no other U.S. player came very close to double figures. Reid Priddy, a holdover from the 2008 team, had only five kills.
"Our Olympics are over," said middle blocker David Lee, another veteran from 2008. "It's a terrible time for us."
The U.S. seemed disjointed throughout the afternoon match, no play more indicative than a miscommunication early in the third set. Richard Lambourne dug a ball in the back, but Stanley and setter Donald Suxho each thought the other would set it.
The ball fell to the court. Point, Italy.
Suxho sat on the bench for several minutes after the match, a towel draped over his head. Most of his teammates filed quickly into the locker room, a few stopping only to talk to reporters.
"It's a huge disappointment. I thought we were going to be contending for a gold again," outside hitter Matt Anderson said.
Italy continually kept the U.S. off-balance with its powerful serving and ended the match on Michal Lasko's kill.
The U.S. was in trouble from the start, failing to convert three set points and ultimately losing the opener on Dragan Travica's ace. The Italians, to their immense credit, overcame a bad call on Priddy's serve — it was ruled an ace but was actually long — that put the U.S. ahead, 24-23.
The second set wasn't so great either for the U.S., which fell behind, 12-9, as the Italians started finding holes through the defense at the net.
About the only thing the U.S. did well was block in the first set, but even that faded.
"They played a lot better than they have this whole tournament," Anderson said of the Italians, who entered the match with a 3-2 record. "Maybe that's partly because they were playing us and a lot of teams like to play us hard.
"They have a good staff that knows our offense pretty well. A lot of us played in the Italian league this year and they have a lot of film."
Ivan Zaytsev had 15 kills for Italy and Cristian Savani had 14.
"We enjoyed the match so much today," Savani said. "We played with courage and I am happy because we showed what Italy is."
Italy plays Brazil in a semifinal Friday, and Bulgaria plays Russia in the other match. The U.S. goes home, fully unable to recapture its run of four years ago.