VOLLEYBALL U.S. team plays well, but Italy captures win
XATHENS, Greece -- The United States men's volleyball team is trying to return to the level it achieved in the 1980s, when the Americans won two Olympic gold medals.
After hitting bottom at the Sydney Games four years ago, team members believe they're in much better shape for medal contention in Greece. But that doesn't mean success will come any easier.
Especially in this pool.
"All the teams are good," coach Doug Beal said Sunday after the U.S. squad opened the tournament with a four-set loss to Italy. "There are going to be lots of results that are going to be difficult to expect. There are no prohibitive favorites. We just have to play our best every night."
What's encouraging for the Americans, who went 0-5 in Australia in 2000, is that they weren't at their best but could easily have sent the match to five sets -- when it's anybody's game.
Matej Cernic had seven of his 18 kills in the third set to give his team a 2-1 edge, and the Italians rallied from a 23-21 deficit to take the last four points of the final set -- taking advantage of some late U.S. sloppiness.
A wicked jump serve on match point by Andrea Sartoretti put the Americans on their heels for the final sequence, and Reid Priddy's kill landed wide to end it at 25-21, 21-25, 25-17, 25-23.
"It tells me we can play with this team," said opposite Clay Stanley, who led all scorers with 21 points. "We can play with any team. We've played with all of them. We've beaten all of them."
Italy, which returns six players from the 2000 bronze medal team, has now won seven out of eight against the United States. But coach Gian Paolo Montali was impressed by the latest meeting with the Americans.
"They have such an intense way," Montali said through a translator. "They can get good results."
The U.S. team is fifth in the latest international federation rankings, but even a healthier, more determined squad will have a tough time escaping Pool B. The top four in each group advance to the quarterfinals.