US women reach semifinals
BEIJING - Late in the fifth set, as the United States women's volleyball team was rolling past Italy, a fan of the Americans taunted the Italians.
"Arrivederci Italia!" he roared.
And with that, the US women said goodbye to Italy, 20-25, 25-21, 19-25, 25-18, 16-6, last night to advance to the semifinals.
The team will face a tough challenge in Cuba, which remained undefeated with a three-set victory over Serbia earlier in the day.
Danielle Scott-Arruda was already thinking of strategy shortly after her team sent the Italians home.
"Fight. Fight. Fight. Fight," she said.
After Italy dominated in the third set, snuffing every US rally, the Americans came alive in the fourth. The crowd at Capital Indoor Stadium joined in by chanting "U-S-A! U-S-A!" before Italian captain Elenora Lo Bianco served into the net for set point.
The US rolled through the deciding set on their momentum.
"I think we all said, 'We still have some fight in us - let's take this thing to a fifth set,' " wing-spiker Logan Tom said about the turning point.
Afterward, the team celebrated with abandon. Ogonna Nnamani was joined by her teammates in a dance and there were hugs all around.
"That was fun," Tom said.
Arguably their biggest victory came against the defending Olympic gold medalists, China. The team was undaunted by the fervent Chinese crowd and the presence of China's president, Hu Jintao, in the 3-2 win.
The game was a big draw because of US coach Jenny Lang Ping, who led the Chinese team to victory over the US at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Lang, who was born in Beijing, is a sports hero in China. Her wedding was broadcast on television and she even had a postage stamp issued in her honor.
She was met with thunderous applause every time she took the court in Beijing, even though she now coaches the opposition.
The Americans have lost just one of their six Olympic matches, but Italy gave them a scare at the start.
The Italians went ahead, 21-17, in the first set after Jenny Barazza's block, then added another point when Tom's spike sailed too long. Francessca Piccinini made set point with a successful cross-court spike.
The US responded by jumping out to a 5-1 lead in the second. Tom played with purpose, winning the final 2 points on a block and a spike.
But Italy cruised through the third set to put the US behind.
Tom said there was nothing really said to spark the US team's rally, just the certainty that losing meant the Olympics were over for them. Italy, meanwhile, was stunned.
"Adrenaline is tricky sometimes. It can be positive or negative, as today for us," Barazza said. "We have been worse than them at some moments, better in others, but they won in the end."
The Americans were ranked fourth in the world going into Beijing. Their best finish at the Olympics came in 1984, when they earned the silver.
In Athens, they finished fifth.