Argentina Volleyball 3, USA 1
Sep. 17, 2000
SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ The U.S. men's volleyball team came here looking to rekindle its glory days of the 1980s. Instead, the Americans might leave with their second straight Olympic embarrassment.
Shut down by a superb blocking scheme from Argentina, the Americans were stunned in four games Sunday _ losing 3-1 _ possibly ruining U.S. hopes for a medal.
``Hopefully, we can put this behind us,'' said center Lloy Ball, one of five U.S. players on the team that finished a humiliating ninth in Atlanta four years ago. ``The hardest thing an athlete has to do is forget a loss.''
This one won't soon be forgotten by the United States, which has seen its fortunes fall dramatically since it won gold in 1984 and '88.
Argentine star hitter Marcos Milinkovic, who struggled with his serving all match, blasted one off the arms of Kevin Barnett to seal the 24-26, 25-23, 25-21, 25-18 victory and set off a flag-waving celebration of white and powder blue.
``I'm very disappointed, not only with the loss, but the way we played,'' said American libero Erik Sullivan. ``Argentina came out with a little more spirit than us.''
The Americans still have to face the top two teams in the world _ Italy and Russia _ in pool play. That makes the odds long that the U.S. team will be one of the top four in its six-team group to advance to the quarterfinals.
``We have to start preparing for Russia tonight,'' Sullivan said. ``We can't dwell on this.''
The defeat spoiled the return of U.S. coach Doug Beal and assistant Marv Dunphy, who guided the team to their last gold medals.
Argentina was ranked ninth in the world and the United States fifth, but the Argentine team's tremendous blocking neutralized American hitters George Roumain, Mike Lambert and John Hyden.
``When the hitters made a bad swing, they got stuffed,'' Beal said.
Argentina's 6-foot-8 Alejandro Spajic did an especially good job, taking the assignment against the 6-7, 255-pound Roumain, who was frustrated from the early going.
``It's tough for a young hitter in his first Olympics, (when) his first couple swings are off the play and he's got two, three blockers up,'' Ball said. ``It's like, `Here you go, welcome to the Olympics.'''
Tied at 14, it was an awkward set by Roumain that got him untracked and stopped the Argentines' momentum. The USA took a 21-17 lead before Argentina rallied again. But the team's sixth service error of the set gave the Americans the set, 26-24.
The second game was close, but Argentina started to pull away despite some huge backcourt slams by Roumain.
A long hit by Tom Hoff gave Argentina a 22-17 lead, but the Americans came back. With John Hyden serving, they ran off four straight points. But Hyden's next serve sailed long, giving Argentina a 23-21 lead.
Yet another error, a long drive by Lambert, gave the game to Argentina.
Frustration started to show on the Americans' faces in the third game, as Milinkovic found his stroke. He still couldn't serve well, but he was punishing balls left for him by teammates.
The Americans climbed back from 17-20 to get to 22-21. With the erratic Roumain coming up to serve, U.S. coach Doug Beal substituted Christian McCaw. His jump serve had the desired effect, sinking at the feet of the Argentines, but they saved it and set up Milinkovic for a kill to make it 23-21.
Milinkovic got the final point to put Argentina ahead 2-1.
Ryan Millar, the promising young American hitter, started getting some open shots in the final set, but it was too late. A kill by Argentina's Hugo Conte, the oldest player in the tournament at 37, followed two terrific saves and made it 16-12, and the Americans couldn't come back.