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U.S. women face nemesis Brazil for volleyball gold

By Elliott Almond

San Jose Mercury News

Published: Friday, Aug. 10 2012 11:43 p.m. MDT

Logan Tom of the United States returns serve in a preliminary match against Brazil in July. The two teams meet again today.

Elsa, Getty Images

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LONDON (MCT) — Everything is ready for the coronation of the top-ranked U.S. women's volleyball team tonight when it faces rival Brazil in a rematch of the 2008 Olympic gold medal match.

But that won't make it any easier for the undefeated Americans in their quest to win the first-ever Olympic title.

Although they don't talk about it, veterans remember the celebratory scene in Beijing when the Brazilians sambaed around the court after winning the gold medal.

"Brazil again," setter Lindsey Berg told reporters after the semifinals. "To win the gold, you have to beat everybody. Brazil has got better as the tournament has gone on."

The United States is 7-0, having lost just two sets — one to China and one to No. 2-ranked Brazil.

"We suffered a lot with the U.S.'s spiking," Brazil coach Jose Guimaraes said of the defeat during pool play. "We now need to defend against them like" his team did in the semifinals against Japan "and then we will see."

The countries are meeting for the ninth time in the Olympics, with each having won four matches. But the Brazilians defeated the United States for a bronze medal in 2000 and the gold medal four years ago.

"They are very emotional and that can be a good thing for them and it can also be a bad thing for them," Berg said.

The Americans have been nothing but business in London. After losing the Olympic championship four years ago, they have had a singular goal of winning in 2012.

They got a new coach, Hugh McCutcheon, who led the American men to victory in Beijing. He is trying to become the second volleyball coach to win gold medals for both indoor teams.

The women's team also relocated training centers from Colorado Springs, Colo., to Anaheim.

They hope the moves change their fortunes after having won two silver medals and bronze since women's volleyball became an Olympic sport in 1964.

"It's going to be difficult," Brazilian star Sheilla Castro told reporters. "But at the previous Olympics, we were the favorites and now I think America is the favorites."

Guimaraes is happy how the Brazilians have responded after losing to the United States and South Korea in the early rounds.

"I felt like it was an embarrassment to our country," he said. "I think we really hit the bottom against Korea. That had to happen so that we would start helping ourselves."

The United States defeated Brazil in June in the FIVB World Grand Prix in Ningbo, China, and they beat Brazil again on July 30 in their pool match, 25-18, 25-17, 22-25, 25-21.

The Americans have improved from 2008 because of 6-foot-4 Olympic rookie Destinee Hooker of San Antonio, Texas.

Hooker, 24, was a three-time NCAA high jump champion at Texas. Now she has a team-leading 147 points in seven matches.

She scored 24 points in the United States' 3-0 victory in the semifinals Thursday night.

"I tried not to make her hit so many balls every match but when it came down to it she's the only person I was giving it to," Berg told reporters. "She was incredible."

Hooker's 147 points have come on 123 kills, 21 blocks and three aces. Middle blocker Foluke Akinradewo, another first-time Olympian, has added 84 points (59 kills, 22 blocks, 3 aces) for 12th in overall scoring. Outside hitter Jordan Larson, also a first-timer, has contributed 76 points (64 kills, 9 blocks, 3 aces) for 17th place, while former Highland High star Logan Tom, a four-time Olympian, has tacked on 61 points.

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