It was a replay of the 2008 Olympic finals with as different ending: the U.S. women’s volleyball team faced the dynamic Brazil squad Monday afternoon, and defeated them in four sets, 25-18, 25-17, 22-25, 25-21.
The U.S. women dominated the first two sets; it looked like a straight-set victory was in the offing, but Brazil fought back to win the third and played America basically even in the fourth, losing only because of service errors.
Coach Hugh McCutcheon was unconcerned by Brazil’s third set comeback. “They played a lot better—that’s the nature of this game, a lot of momentum shifts,” he told NBC Sports. “I thought we controlled the first two games they made some adjustments. Thankfully we were able to make the adjustments back in the fourth and we were able to pull it out. Pretty happy with the win.”
U.S. captain Lindsey Berg was actually proud of the U.S. play in the third set. “I am really happy about the third [set] when we came back from being down. We could have given it to them very easily and given them a lot of momentum in the fourth. Instead we fought and fought until the end, and even had opportunities in the third to tie it,” she explained.
“I am thrilled with our play and with this type of win against the number-two team in the world. Any win in the Olympics is a huge one.”
USA Comes Out in Command
The gold medal winners in Beijing, Brazil had fallen to the U.S. in the last three matches they had played, and the American ladies came in with the kind of confidence those results engender; through the first two periods the American women were on top and unworried.
For the first two sets Brazil was on the run, calling time-outs to try to break the U.S. momentum, which didn’t work. Big U.S. outside striker Destinee Hooker wasn’t hitting with conviction, but Jordan Thomas was making up for it. The U.S. had a few too many unforced errors, but Brazil did too. The U.S. women played like they were on their way to a three-set win, and Brazil played that way, too.
USA took the first two sets 25-18, 25-17. But near the end of the second set, Brazil seemed to wake up. Down 24–15, the Brazilianas fought off a pair of set points before finally losing to a drive by Destinee Hooker, who started to fire up her own game halfway through the set.
Brazil came out on fire in the third set, taking the lead and playing like the Americans had been. American striker Jordan Thomas suddenly went cold, and the whole team seemed to be playing conservatively, while Brazil went all out for every kill.
The only things keeping the Americans in the game were Brazil’s unforced errors (though the U.S. had a couple too.) The U.S went down 9–5, but fought back tie at 15, with both sides playing great defense and making amazing digs. The U.S. went up a point, then Brazil fought back; the two teams tied at 19.
Destinee Hooker kept scoring for the U.S. but Brazil still blocked more then got through. Brazil got called for a foot foul, the once more beat the U.S. blockers to get set point. A U.S. defender mishit a dig, and Brazil was on the board.
Getting It Back in the Fourth
The U.S. team opened up the fourth set with some inspired defense, chasing balls several yards off court and bringing them back for successful strikes. Destinee Hooker kept hitting away (she scored a total of 23) and Jordan Larson found her focus again.
Fabiana Oliveira scored a few for Brazil, and Sheilla Castro seemed to score with every spike she hit; but again, Brazil gave points away with service errors, seven in the set. With the score 24–21, Logan Toms, who had been setting up the big hitters all match, tipped one over herself; it dropped, giving USA the set and match.
USA won the match, but if Brazil had made half as many service errors in the final set, they would have won. USA got a break in the fourth. Had the Brazilians not beat themselves, would the U.S. women have beaten them?
The U.S. women showed heart and skill, but they also showed some weaknesses: an inability to go for the kill when needed, and streakiness in intensity. Hopefully all the players will be on the same page and in prime form when the team faces China in the next match.