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Berg’s return boosts US volleyball

By Anne M. Peterson
Associated Press / August 10, 2012
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LONDON — Coach Hugh McCutcheon made a special point of seeking out captain Lindsey Berg for a quick hug after the US women’s volleyball team advanced to Saturday’s gold-medal match at the London Olympics.

The Americans got an emotional boost from Berg, who returned for a straight-set semifinal victory over South Korea on Thursday after missing the last match with a strained left Achilles’.

‘‘It’s game time and I feel great, and I don’t care how I feel after Saturday,’’ Berg said, referring to the final, a rematch of 2008 Olympic finale against Brazil.

The US women settled for the silver medal in Beijing, falling to Brazil, 3-1. The team has won silver twice and bronze once since volleyball joined the Olympics in 1964.

The United States, ranked No. 1 in the world by the sport’s international governing body, was lead by Destinee Hooker’s 24 points in the 25-20, 25-22, 25-22 win over South Korea at Earls Court.

‘‘It’s great to be in this position,’’ US middle blocker Christa Harmotto said. ‘‘It’s a position we’ve worked for for four years.”

Berg, a three-time Olympian, hurt her leg in the Americans’ final preliminary match against Turkey on Sunday.

Berg warmed up before the team’s straight-set victory over the Dominican Republic in the quarterfinals on Tuesday, but didn’t play. Courtney Thompson started in her place.

There was no holding Berg out of another one.

‘‘That’s great that she feels so positive about it,’’ McCutcheon said. ‘‘If she feels good then the rest of us do as well.’’

South Korea and Japan will play in Saturday’s bronze-medal match. It was the first time two Asian teams made it to the semifinals since the 1988 Seoul Games.

The semifinal was tight at the start, but the United States pulled ahead 20-16 in the first set on Hooker’s kill. The South Koreans denied the US its first chance at set point before Kim Yeon-koung’s serve sailed out to give it to the Americans.

South Korea took a 14-11 advantage in the second on Jung Dae-young’s kill, but mistakes cost them in the end. Kim’s misplayed spike gave the United States a 23-22 lead, and Han Yoo-mi’s kill went wide for set point.

South Korea fought back to even the third set at 18 on Kim’s ace. But the US wouldn’t let the South Koreans take the lead and Hooker’s monster spike set up Tom’s kill for the win.

‘‘They played like the No. 1 team in the world and they overwhelmed us with their speed, power and accuracy,’’ South Korea coach Kim Hyung-sil said.

It will be the second straight Olympic final for McCutcheon, who guided the American men to a gold medal in 2008.

Berg is confident that it will be the women’s turn next.

‘‘It’s hard not to imagine that because this team is a gold medal-winning team,’’ she said.

In the other semifinal, defending Olympic champion Brazil notched a straight-set victory over Japan.

Captain Fabiana Claudino and Sheilla Castro each had 13 points for the No. 2 Brazilians in the 25-18, 25-15, 25-18 win.

Brazil and the US met in the preliminary round, with the Americans winning 3-1.

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