ATLANTA (AP) _ A sister act and a blast from the past helped the United States women’s volleyball team open the Olympics with a straight-set win over Ukraine.
Sisters Bev and Elaina Oden dominated the first set and oldtimers Caren Kemner and Paula Weishoff the second as the defending bronze medalists won 15-8, 15-5, 15-11 Saturday night.
Ukraine was making its Olympic debut, which showed. The United States scored the first six points of the match on Bev Oden’s serve, and added two more for an 8-0 lead. Elaina Oden, the middle of three Odens who’ve played for the U.S. national teams, displayed her spiking and blocking prowess.
In the second set, coach Terry Liskevych brought in Kemner and Weishoff, two of the best attackers in U.S. history, who rejoined the team last year. Kemner replaced Teee Williams and came in to serve with an 11-4 lead, and had a back-row spike to make it 12-4.
Weishoff, 34, the only American left from the silver-medal winning team of 1984, came in for Bev Oden and had two kills and two blocks for sideouts, then spiked for a 14-5 lead. All 12 Americans played.
The Ukraine opened the third set with a 3-0 run before captain Tara Cross-Battle, Danielle Scott and Weishoff brought the Americans back to a 3-3 tie. The Ukraine kept pace until Weishoff helped gain control of the net with several stuff blocks.
Elaina Oden had a monster spike for a 14-11 lead, bringing the near-capacity crowd at the Omni to its feet. With setter Lori Endicott serving match point, Mariya Polyakova whiffed at the net and the Americans were winners.
Team USA continues pool play Monday night against the Netherlands.
The first five matches were all straight-set victories. Also in Atlanta, China beat the Netherlands 15-10, 15-5, 15-7; and Russia swept Germany 15-5, 15-10, 15-7 to gain revenge for an upset loss in the European qualifying tournament. At Athens, Ga., defending gold medalist Cuba beat inexperienced Canada 15-8, 15-8, 15-5; and Korea beat Japan 15-10, 15-12, 15-10.
Germany defeated the favored Russians 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.
Germany, playing under one flag for the first time in Olympic volleyball competition, got 16 kills from Nancy Celis.
China, led by Sun Yue’s 17 kills, took early leads in the first two sets. The Netherlands didn’t take its first lead until 5-4 of the third set, but China quickly regained control and pulled away, winning the final two points on Cui Yongmei’s serve.