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Wednesday, August 18, 2004
Americans waste two match points

Associated Press

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.''