China, Russia, Cuba, Brazil win in quarters

Updated: August 26, 2004, 6:13 PM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- The U.S. women's volleyball team found its rhythm a little too late.

And after struggling just to get out of the preliminary round, the Americans were eliminated from the Olympics a lot sooner than they imagined.

A late rally by the United States fizzled against Brazil in a five-set quarterfinal defeat Tuesday, 25-22, 25-20, 22-25, 25-27, 15-6.

"We fought back," outside hitter Ogonna Nnamani said. "Being down 2-0 is not easy. I just think we ran out of gas there at the end."

Erika Coimbra scored 20 points to lead the unbeaten Brazilians into the semifinals against Russia on Thursday, with the winner gaining a spot in the gold-medal game. China plays three-time defending gold medalist Cuba in the other semifinal.

"We cannot believe it," Brazil middle blocker Walewska Oliveira said through a translator. "We were afraid that the USA could beat us 3-0 tonight."

The Americans, the top-ranked team coming into the tournament, overcame erratic serving and 32 unforced errors to come back from their two-set deficit. The drama quickly disappeared, though, when the Brazilians took an 8-2 lead in the fifth set. The U.S. team's gold-medal hopes vanished a few minutes later.

"They gave it all out there," Logan Tom said. "I hope people saw that ... and are proud of us even though we came out with a loss. Because I know I am, and I always will be."

These teams met only once before the Olympics this season, with Brazil beating the United States in the semifinals of the World Grand Prix tournament. But the six Americans who played at the 2000 Sydney Games surely remembered a three-set loss to the Brazilians in the bronze-medal match.

There was no shortage of confidence, just a shortage of points.

"I truly in my heart believed that we were going to win," four-time Olympian Tara Cross-Battle said. "We had the momentum, and I think that's probably what the most devastating thing is about this loss."

The second-ranked Brazilians are one of the most polished teams in the tournament, and it's nearly impossible to build a big lead against them. Their block is almost always in the right place, they're able to dig nearly every ball off the floor and their dangerous attack is deftly guided by setter Fernanda Venturini.

In the end, the U.S. team had no answer. Perhaps it never fully recovered from its disappointing performance in the opening round.

The Americans were stunned in a loss to the Dominican Republic last week, but a pep talk from the gold medal-winning U.S. softball team pumped up the players.

The Americans lost their next game to Russia before bouncing back to beat Cuba and qualify for the quarterfinals. Still, by losing three of their five preliminary matches, they got stuck with the lowest seed and had to face the Brazilians.

"The past is the past," Stacy Sykora said. "It's a whole other team. We were finally playing like USA Volleyball. Anything you saw before the Dominican game was not USA Volleyball."

Tom took a yellow-card violation for complaining about a call in the third set, and coach Toshi Yoshida sent Nnamani in for her. Nnamani killed point No. 24 for the Americans, and Keba Phipps came up with the set-winning block.

Nnamani, a three-time All-American at Stanford who grew up in Bloomington, Ill., is only 6-foot-1, but she sure is powerful. She provided a fourth-set spark as the U.S. team took an 18-15 lead before Brazil surged back.

Heather Bown's serve went into the net to tie it at 25, but Tayyiba Haneef's kill and Danielle Scott's block pulled the Americans into a 2-all tie.

"It was a nerve-breaking match," Brazil coach Jose Guimaraes said through an interpreter.

Just as a slow start wound up costing them in the tournament, a slow start wound up costing them in this match. The Brazilians were just too strong in the final set.

"Hopefully we did not have to play with Brazil until the final," Yoshida said. "But it's all in the past. We lost too many games."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press