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Americans waste two match points

8/18/2004

ATHENS, Greece -- Placed in a difficult pool, the United
States appeared to have one easy foe on the preliminary schedule.
Try telling that to the Dominican Republic.

Milagros Cabral de la Cruz had the match-winning kill in the
fifth set Wednesday and the Dominicans upset the Americans, 26-24,
22-25, 27-25, 23-25, 19-17.

The U.S. dropped to 1-2 and must face sixth-ranked Russia on
Friday and fifth-ranked Cuba on Sunday to close out the first round
of the Olympic tournament. The top four in the six-team pool
advance to the quarterfinals.

"We just put ourself in a very, very difficult situation,''
coach Toshi Yoshida said.

Tayyiba Haneef led the Americans with 20 points on 18 kills and
two aces, and Logan Tom added 16 kills.

The Dominicans fended off set point in the fourth three times
until Tom's spike attempt glanced off middle blocker Yudelkys
Bautista's forearm and into the net to even the match at 2-2.

The Americans then reached match point twice in the fifth set
but couldn't put it away. Cabral de la Cruz, who led all scorers
with 21 points, wound up and spiked the winner off a diving Ogonna
Nnamani.

"We are all very happy,'' Dominican libero Evelyn Pichardo
Carrera said through a translator. "We played very aggressively,
and we showed the people a wonderful match. We fought each point.
We had faith 'til the end. ... We do not feel inferior toward any
other teams.''

After looking sluggish and losing the opening set, the Americans
evened the match with a sequence involving of their two key
backups. Setter Lindsey Berg, having subbed for Robyn Ah Mow-Santos
on the previous point to serve, gave opposite Nancy Metcalf a
perfect fingertip pass at the net.

Metcalf, a former All-American at Nebraska who is perhaps the
team's hardest hitter, finished the second set with a vicious
left-handed spike that landed in the middle of the back row.

A kill by Haneef gave the U.S. team set point in the third, but
the Dominicans staved that off twice and then won it on a blocking
error by Haneef -- who tried to stop a spike by Kenia Moreta Perez.

Swept by Russia and China in their first two matches, the
Dominicans are making their Olympic debut after earning a spot in
the Athens Games by winning the South American qualifying
tournament in January.

Though inexperienced, they're full of enthusiasm and built in
the mold of the athletic Cubans -- who have won the last three
golds.

"It's just an example of how the Olympics is,'' Nnamani said.
"Doesn't matter what team you are, or where you're from, or what
you're about or what you've done in the past. It's all about right
now.''

The Americans lost to the Dominicans for just the second time in
26 meetings.

"We had so many unforced errors,'' Yoshida said. "We knew that
the Dominican Republic was strong. ... We knew that they could play
like that.''