VOLLEYBALL U.S. women's hopes dimmed by Russians



XATHENS, Greece -- The U.S. women's volleyball team began the Olympics with golden aspirations. Now it's just hoping to make the medal round.
Not even a surprise pep talk from the unbeatable U.S. softball team could end this puzzling slump.
Ekaterina Gamova had 28 points and the match-winning kill to lead powerful Russia to a five-set victory over the United States on Friday, 20-25, 25-17, 20-25, 25-18, 15-11.
The Russians (3-1) clinched a spot in the quarterfinals and will finish pool play against China on Sunday.
The Americans (1-3), who carried the world's top ranking into this tournament, must beat three-time defending gold medalist Cuba to move on. If they lose, they're done.
The Cubans clinched a berth in the medal round with a three-set victory over the Dominican Republic, and China did the same by sweeping Germany.
"It's been an emotional rollercoaster," said Tayyiba Haneef, who had 25 points.
She was encouraged by a meeting with the U.S. softball team, which has yet to allow a run in seven Olympic victories a few miles up the coast.
Some of the softball players spotted middle blocker Danielle Scott walking around the athletes' village Thursday night and asked to speak to the volleyball team about overcoming unexpected failure.
At the 2000 Sydney Games, the seemingly invincible softball team lost three straight at one point and was on the verge of elimination before turning things around and winning a gold medal.
"They told us the tournament isn't over until it's over," Haneef said. "We still have one more match. If we give everything we can and go out and take that game, then anything can happen."
Russia's longtime coach Nikolay Karpol was unhappy most of the match -- as usual.
The 6-foot-8 Gamova typifies the Russians -- tall, lean and tough. They responded to Karpol's early scoldings, dominating the second and fourth sets before taking control of the final frame.
"We wanted badly to win," libero Elena Tyurina said through a translator. "We came to fight and to get as high as we can."
The Americans put themselves in a hole two days ago with a stunning five-set loss to the Dominicans. They were distraught when they left the Peace and Friendship Stadium court following the defeat -- and some of them were in tears.
Those thoughts were quickly purged with an impressive first set. Logan Tom finished it off with two kills -- one spike and one sneaky tip over the net that Gamova couldn't handle -- to put the U.S. team in front.
Associated Press
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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