WOMENS VOLLEYBALL U.S. avoids late collapse for win over Germany
XATHENS, 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."
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 the quarterfinals.
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 five-set thriller.
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.
"They were lucky at the end," German libero Tanja Hart said. "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."