ATHENS, Greece -- Olympic volleyball tournaments are chock
full of second chances, but the United States women weren't
interested in a second defeat.
After an opening loss to gold-medal favorite China, the United States avoided a late collapse and hung on in a four-set victory
over feisty Germany on Monday.
Olympic rookie Tayyiba Haneef (17 kills) and veteran Keba Phipps (16 points) led the Americans in the 25-22, 25-22, 22-25, 27-25 win.
"Germany was a tough team, just as I had expected," coach
Toshi Yoshida said. "It was a scary match."
Every match at the Athens Games is being played at the Peace and Friendship Stadium, a 14,000-seat arena along the Gulf of Faliro
with a distinctive concrete roof that curves up on both ends like a
perfectly sliced potato chip.
With the pool play format, that means six matches crammed into each of the first 10 days of competition. It's a grinding
preliminary session that might seem meaningless at times,
especially since the top four in each six-team group advances to
But dropping to 0-2 would have been dangerous for the United States, with Russia and Cuba left on the schedule.
"We definitely came out with a lot more fire," Haneef said.
China, which beat the Americans in four sets, leads Pool B after a sweep of the Dominican Republic -- the next foe for the United States on Wednesday The Americans are tied with Russia, Cuba and Germany at 1-1 after the Cubans outlasted the Russians in a
Earlier in Pool A, Brazil swept Kenya, Italy topped Japan in
three sets and Korea beat Greece in four.
The competition began with six clear medal contenders, but the Germans -- guided by the serving-and-spiking prowess of Angelina Grun -- caught everyone's attention with a five-set upset of the three-time defending Olympic champion Cuba.
Grun was her usual dominant self against the U.S. team, totaling 20 points -- including 16 kills and three aces. The Germans didn't give up after going down 2-0, grabbing the last four points of the third set with some highlight-reel sequences.
On set point, Grun leaped from the right side, wound up and
whipped a spike between Phipps and Logan Tom that landed in front
of sprawled-out setter Robyn Ah Mow-Santos in the back row.
Germany showed even more scrap in the thrilling fourth set,
staving off match point three times and taking a 25-24 lead before
the Americans closed with three straight to win. Heather Bown
sandwiched an ace between two powerful spikes by Haneef.
"They were lucky at the end," said German libero Tanja Hart.
"That's why they won the match."
At 25, Haneef -- a 6-foot-7 opposite who played at Long Beach State and joined the national team in 2001 -- is one of the game's up-and-coming talents at her position. Yoshida frequently mentions Haneef as the player whose success most closely mirrors the team's.
"We had a lot of problems in blocking at the beginning," Hart
said. "We couldn't stop Haneef."
Thanks to the powerful play of Phipps and Haneef in the first
two sets, the U.S. built a valuable lead and stayed away from a
risky fifth set.
"It would be very disappointing if we lost for the second time
in a row," American libero Stacy Sykora said. "This victory is
very important. ... We had heart. We wanted to win."