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May, Walsh survive all-American semi

8/24/2004

ATHENS, Greece -- Misty May and Kerri Walsh were feeling the
pressure before their Olympic beach volleyball semifinal against
fellow Americans and friendly rivals Holly McPeak and Elaine
Youngs.

Once the match began, it hardly showed.

May and Walsh, the world's top-ranked team, made McPeak and
Youngs scramble for every point and pulled away in the second set
for a 21-18, 21-15 victory Monday night.

"That was the most stressful match I've ever had to play in my
life," Walsh said. "The tension of the Olympic Games, the
excitement, it was all bubbling over."

Both said they would sleep better knowing they are guaranteed to
win the first women's beach medal for the United States.

"I'm drained," Walsh said. "But I'll get it all back in 10
minutes and get ready for tomorrow."

McPeak has come close to winning a beach medal twice, finishing
fifth with May in 2000 and fifth with Nancy Reno in 1996, when the
sport made its Olympic debut.

After Walsh tapped an easy winner to end Monday's match, McPeak
and Youngs ducked under the net to embrace the winners.

"Elaine came right over and said, 'Kerri, bring home the gold.
We're expecting it,'" Walsh said, "Then Holly said, 'You deserve
it. Go get it.' That's what we intend to do."

The No. 1 Americans will play for the gold Tuesday against
second-seeded Brazilians Shelda Bede and Adriana Behar, who
defeated Australians Natalie Cook and Nicole Sanderson 21-17, 21-16
earlier Monday. The Brazilians won the silver in 2000, losing to
Cook and Kerri Pottharst.

"I am happy, but it hasn't finished yet," said Shelda.
"Tomorrow will be the most important match."

McPeak and Youngs, the No. 4 seeds, will meet the Aussies for
the bronze. McPeak, the sport's all-time winningest female player,
said she and Youngs won't take long to regroup from Monday's loss.

"We're obviously disappointed, but we've still got a big chance
to get on that podium," she said. "That would be pretty nice to
have both our teams up there."

May and Walsh defeated McPeak and Youngs for the 14th straight
time and for the 17th time in 19 meetings. But McPeak and Youngs
had plenty of reasons to think they would have better luck this
time. They've been the best pair in the world this summer, with six
wins and 13 top-10 finishes.

"I thought we could beat them, I really did," McPeak said.
"But they put more pressure on us than we put on them."

The match was tied 10-10 in the first set, but the 6-foot-3
Walsh put the top U.S. duo ahead for good with an angled tap over
the net. Walsh then blocked a one-handed kill attempt by Youngs and
May punched a shot past the backpedaling McPeak and Youngs for a
13-10 lead. Walsh finished the set with an easy kill to open sand.

The teams were tied 7-7 in the second set before May and Walsh
mounted a decisive 4-0 run, sending McPeak and Youngs diving and
scrambling on every return. McPeak and Youngs staved off two match
points before Walsh ended it with another uncontested kill.

"It was definitely disappointing," McPeak said. "Once you get
down three or four to them, it's very hard to come back."

May and Walsh's next opponents, Shelda and Adriana, are the
all-time winningest pair on the international FIVB tour, with 31
victories and more than $1.7 million in earnings.

The Brazilians trailed 17-16 in the first set against Cook and
Sanderson, but Adriana punched a kill deep and Shelda blocked
Sanderson with her taped right hand to give the Brazilians the
lead. Shelda has nerve damage in the hand from a car accident 13
years ago.

The only shaky moment in the second set came when Adriana
nonchalantly kicked a ball off the court after a play. It struck a
courtside ball girl in the head. Shelda spotted the gaffe, ran to
the girl and kissed her on the forehead.

On match point, Adriana pounded a spike that Sanderson couldn't
handle and the Brazilians dropped to their knees and embraced.

In men's action, Spaniards Javier Bosma and Pablo Herrera ousted
Australians Julien Prosser and Mark Williams 21-18, 21-18.

Top-ranked Brazilians Emanuel Rego and Ricardo Santos faced
fifth-seeded Swiss pair Patrick Heuscher and Stefan Kobel in the
other semifinal.