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U.S. Routs Ukraine In Opener

July 21, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ An easy match in front of an appreciative home crowd. The U.S. women’s volleyball team couldn’t have asked for a more perfect Olympic opener.

Trying to improve upon the bronze medal they won in 1992, the Americans routed Ukraine 15-8, 15-5, 15-11 Saturday night.

``Playing a team like Ukraine, we need to win in three,″ said Bev Oden, who served Team USA to a 6-0 lead in the opening set. ``We’re going to have a lot of tough matches coming up, and it’s good to get that one out of the way in three.″

Oden’s sister, Elaina, displayed her power game in the first set. And three-time Olympians Caren Kemner and Paula Weishoff starred in the second. By the third set, all 12 U.S. players had seen action against the Ukraine, playing in its first Olympics and the last of 12 teams to qualify.

As the Americans dominated, the near-capacity crowd of 14,750 at the Omni grew louder and louder. By the end, the fans were on their feet. It was a welcome change for the team, which plays most of its matches abroad.

``I think that’s the first time I’ve ever seen anything like that,″ Bev Oden said. ``It’s great. Having a U.S. crowd ... we’re usually somewhere else where there’s 30,000 screaming whatevers _ Brazil, whatever.″

The crowd inspired the Americans, but all they really needed to see was an opponent on the other side of the net.

``We were amped tonight, just waiting,″ hitter Tammy Liley said. ``It’s been like a week; we’re antsy and edgy and tense. We’re tired of each other but we’re ready to play. So it’s good to get some aggressions out.″

Tara Cross-Battle had a match-high 16 kills for the U.S. team, which resumes play Monday night against the Netherlands.

All six matches Saturday were won in three sets.

In other Atlanta action, China beat the Netherlands 15-10, 15-5, 15-7, Russia swept Germany 15-5, 15-10, 15-7 to gain revenge for an upset loss in the European qualifying tournament, and Brazil crushed Peru 15-7, 15-1, 15-5. At Athens, Ga., defending gold medalist Cuba beat Canada 15-8, 15-8, 15-5, and South Korea defeated Japan 15-10, 15-12, 15-10.

Russia had lost to Germany in the European Zone qualification tournament in December. Because the African Zone qualifier had only two teams in it, Russia was sent there to play, beating Nigeria and Kenya.

Since that loss to the Germans seven months ago, the Russians changed passers and got back some star players from winter leagues.

``I think our attack became faster,″ coach Nikolai Karpol said. ``It’s more interesting when we play this way.″

Also, three standouts returned after having children.

``They made a gift to their families. Now they play volleyball,″ Karpol said, drawing a smirk from setter Marina Nikoulina, mother of two.

With Nikoulina running an efficient offense, Irina Ilchenko had a match-high 23 kills and Evguenia Artamonova had 18. Artamonova rounded out an impressive match with four stuff blocks and two service aces. She served on match point and put down the final spike.

Russia’s roster includes players that helped the Soviet Union win the 1988 gold medal and the Unified Team win bronze in 1992. This is Russia’s first Summer Olympics as its own entity.

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