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Thursday, September 28
U.S. women lose to Russia in five matches

SYDNEY, Australia -- Against all expectations, the Americans set their goals high for these Olympics. Just not high enough to reach over the lanky arms of the Russians.

The U.S. women's volleyball team saw its unlikely run end Thursday, but not without a fierce fight against a much-taller Russian team.

Led by the 6-foot-4 Elena Godina and 6-3 Liobov Chachkova, the Russians defeated the United States 25-15, 23-25, 25-15, 26-28, 15-8 to advance to the gold-medal match Saturday (Friday night ET) against two-time defending champion Cuba.

The Americans, who weren't favored to make the semifinals much less push the powerful Russians to a fifth game, will play Brazil for the bronze.

"Coming out of here with any kind of medal is a bonus," said 19-year-old U.S. hitter Logan Tom. "Bronze, gold, silver, whatever -- we're fighting our hearts out for it."

After staging a thrilling comeback to win the fourth game, the U.S. team ran out of steam in the fifth. The Americans actually led 6-5, but the Russians and their unyielding block took over.

Tara Cross-Battle got her roundhouse shot blocked to give Russia a 9-7 lead, and two points later she got swatted down again. With Russia leading 13-8, Chachkova powered a shot off the U.S. blockers for a score.

On match point, Danielle Scott, the Americans' most imposing player, was stuffed by Evgena Artamonova and Natalia Morozova.

Point, game, match.

"They're a very exceptional team. They have been for a very long time," said Cross-Battle, playing in her last Olympics at age 32. "I'm very proud of this team. A lot of people didn't think that we would get this far, but we knew that we could get this far."

As in their quarterfinal victory against South Korea, the Americans stormed back from a seemingly hopeless deficit.

Trailing 21-16 in the fourth game, the United States crept back to tie it at 22-all, when Russia was called for touching the net. Russia made another silly error when, with match point at 25-24, Artamonova served into the net.

The Americans finally forged ahead at 27-26 and then won it when Tom fired a shot that went off the blockers' hands and behind the Russians.

"We had some moments of greatness," U.S. blocker Kerri Walsh said. "Our comeback in game four was amazing, and I think we're going to take that with us. We have to fight the entire time, we can't start at the end when it's getting down to crunch time. This is for a medal. We can't leave anything on the floor."

The U.S. team had rallied from 12-9 in the fifth game of an agonizingly close match against South Korea on Tuesday, winning the game 16-14.

"They were completely different styles of play," Haley said of South Korea and Russia. "It took us a while to adjust to the high set and very powerful attacks. I thought our team, though, did a good job of making the adjustments."

Scott, 27, took a leave from a Brazilian pro team to rejoin the national squad. And Cross-Battle postponed starting a family. Both were on the team that was favored to win the gold in Atlanta but finished seventh. Now, they say a bronze would be a nice reward.

"We're not done yet," Scott said. "I think it would be awesome for volleyball. A bronze medal, it's a medal. It's top three and would be a good finish for our program."

Cuba 3, Brazil 2
It was just like old times, without the punches.

Cuba, which fought Brazil during a semifinal victory in the last Olympics, rallied to beat Brazilians again Thursday 27-29, 25-19, 21-25, 25-19, 15-9 in another semifinal.

Cuba will try for an unprecedented third consecutive gold medal Saturday (Friday night) against Russia, which struggled past the United States in five games.

Even before that outcome, however, the Cubans considered the gold-medal match a formality.

"I feel really happy because we're going to get the gold medal, and it's going to be the third one," Marlenis Costa said.

The same teams met in 1992, with Cuba winning. Russia then slipped to fourth in Atlanta, while the Cubans kept rolling.

"Today our team looks the exact opposite," said Russian coach Nikolai Karpol. "In Barcelona, we had a very experienced team, and the Cubans were very young. Now we are young and they have the experience. It's quite possible that wisdom will conquer."

The semifinal had the feel of a gold-medal showdown. When it was over, the players quickly shook hands at the net, avoiding a repeat of their angry meeting in Atlanta.

"I think there were problems, but those problems are nonexistent now," Cuban captain Regla Bell said.

Led by 6-foot-3 blocker Regla Torres, Cuba never trailed in the deciding fifth game, taking some drama out of the finish.

"It's an enormous disappointment to yet again not be able to reach the finals," Brazilian coach Bernado Rezende said. "We fell to what is unquestionably the dominant team of the '90s, and in the year 2000."

The two teams clashed after Cuba's heated five-game semifinal victory in Atlanta. Players sniped at each other during that match and the tension boiled over during the post-match handshake at the net.

Players slapped each other and scuffled again at the tunnel leading to the locker rooms.

China 3, Germany 1
China ended a disappointing Olympics with a small consolation prize Thursday, taking fifth place in women's volleyball by defeating Germany 25-19, 25-19, 22-25, 25-18.

China, the 1996 silver medalist, began the tournament with a surprising defeat to the United States before losing to Croatia and Brazil, all without putting up much of a fight.

The Chinese bounced back, routing Kenya and Australia to reach the quarterfinals, but then got trounced by Russia. Still, they won four of their last five matches to save face.

"In our earlier matches we did not play very well, so as far as we're concerned, we did well to get fifth in the competition," said captain Sun Yue.

Germany, which stunned Italy in the final match of group play to reach the next round, took sixth to improve on its eighth-place showing in Atlanta.

Croatia 3, South Korea 1
Croatia finished seventh in its first Olympic women's volleyball tournament by defeating South Korea 25-18, 24-26, 25-22, 25-21.
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