VOLLEYBALL China tops Americans in preliminary round



ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- With the United States poised to make a gold-medal run in women's volleyball, China was up to the opening challenge.
Paced by the power of outside Hao Yang, the Chinese team beat the Americans in four sets Saturday to start the preliminary competition.
China, the team chosen by many to win the gold in these games, was just a little too much for the U.S. -- which has a promising mix of young and old players hoping to use momentum from a fourth-place finish in Sydney in 2000.
Heather Bown's block attempt on match point fell short in the fourth and least-competitive set, ending the match at 25-21, 23-25, 25-22, 25-18.
The Americans were unable to capitalize on a break just two points into the match.
China's best middle blocker, the 6-foot-5 Ruirui Zhao, limped off the court after reaggravating an injury to her right leg that kept her out of the World Grand Prix tournament last month. Though she didn't appear to be in serious pain, Zhao was later carried off on a gurney for further examination.
Without Zhao in the World Grand Prix, China finished fifth and fell to third in the latest international rankings.
The Chinese weren't fazed, though, using five kills by the feisty Yang to win the first set and delighting the hundreds of their fellow citizens that showed up at the Peace and Friendship Stadium. China's contingent, clad in white T-shirts featuring the country's red flag, easily drowned out the Americans in attendance.
In a second set in which both teams were within two of each other at all times, the U.S. took four of the last five points to pull even. Olympic rookie Ogonna Nnamani, a reserve outside hitter who was an All-American at Stanford, played extensively and had five kills in that set.
Earlier in the day, Germany surprised three-time defending gold medalist Cuba in five sets and Russia breezed by the Dominican Republic in three. In Pool A, Brazil beat Japan, host Greece defeated Kenya and Italy beat Korea -- all in three sets.
Associated Press

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