Koji Sasahara, Associated Press
American Heather Bown spikes the ball against Japan's Megumi Kurihara, left, and Erika Araki en route to a U.S. victory.

BEIJING — Opening preliminary pool play at the 2008 Beijing Olympics with a hard-fought, four-set victory over Japan, the U.S. women's volleyball team was riding dual roller coasters of momentum and emotion.

Momentum, as in scoring the final seven points of the third game to rally for a 25-19 set triumph and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five match, then doing the same in the fourth and final set to win the match, three games to one

And emotion, as in the highs of U.S. head coach and former Chinese Olympic volleyball gold medalist "Jenny" Lang Ping returning home to a hero's welcome in the People's Republic of China. Emotion, as in American players battling through heartache for a former teammate whose father was stabbed to death and mother seriously injured in an attack at a Beijing tourist site earlier in the day.

And so Team USA takes its opener in not-so-typical fashion, winning 25-20, 20-25, 25-19, 25-21 at Capital Gymnasium. The Americans meet

Cuba in their next match Monday.

Many of the American players were dealing with the shocking news of the noon-hour stabbing of Todd and Barbara Bachman, parents of former U.S. national team member and 2004 Olympian Elisabeth Bachman McCutcheon. She is married to current U.S. men's volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon.

Todd Bachman was killed and Barbara Bachman hospitalized with life-threatening injuries when they were attacked by a knife-wielding assailant at the Drum Tower. The Chinese man then leaped to his death from the structure's second story.

Elisabeth McCutcheon, known during her playing days as "Wiz," was not injured.

Thoughts of the tragedy kept crossing the U.S. players' minds during the match, said outside hitter Logan Tom, who played in the '04 Athens Games with McCutcheon.

"It's difficult to put that in the back of your heads while you're focused on the match, but ..." said the former Highland High star, her voice choking with emotion. "It's hard, you know. We all know Wiz."

With that, she apologized with a gesture and walked away to compose herself in the locker room.

Meanwhile, the Chinese-dominated crowd of 11,500 gave Lang a rousing ovation during pre-match introductions and — judging from their cheers — adopted her American team. The Chinese love their volleyball, cheering and applauding every highlight for both teams.

Three Americans ended the match with double-digit kills — Danielle Scott-Arruda with 16, Tayyiba Haneef-Park with 14 and Heather Bown with 12 — while Tom and Kim Willoughby were one shy at nine kills each.

But it was on the block that the Americans punctuated the victory, scoring four of the match's final five points by putting an immediate stop to Japan's attack at the net.

That included Haneff-Park and Bown on a combo block, followed by a joint effort by Bown and Tom and then a solo block by Tom. The final match point was punctuated by a shared block by Bown and Willoughby.


E-mail: taylor@desnews.com