BEIJING One can understand if the members of the United States men's volleyball team are feeling, as baseball's Yogi Berra once said, like it's deja vu all over again.
The Americans' come-from-behind, five-set victory over Serbia by a score of 20-25, 25-23, 21-25, 25-18, 15-12 in Wednesday night's quarterfinals at Capital Gymnasium seemed awfully familiar.
Rightfully so, since it was only a month or so earlier in Rio de Janeiro that the two teams were meeting in the championship finals of the World League, with the U.S. mustering a nip-and-tuck, five-set triumph then, too.
"We were lucky to get out with a win there, too," said former BYU star Rich Lambourne.
The fact that the United States earned a thrilling five-set victory in an Olympic quarterfinal also seems like it has happened before.
Because it has just four years ago at the 2004 Athens Games.
"We've been here before," said U.S. middle blocker Ryan Millar, who like Lambourne honed his volleyball skills while competing for BYU in the late 1990s. "We won a five-set match in Athens (in the quarterfinals) in the same type of match we were down and we came back."
Now, just like in Athens, the United States is in the Olympic semifinals, where at least one victory earns you a medal and the desired outcome is two wins for the gold.
And that's where Millar, a three-time Olympian, hopes current events for the U.S. team deviate from past history.
Four years ago, the United States lost in the '04 Games semifinals to Brazil and then faltered in the bronze-medal match against Russia, leaving Athens empty-handed.
And guess who is awaiting the Americans in Friday's semifinals? Russia, with Brazil and Italy meeting in the other semi.
"In this phase of the competition, it's do or die," Millar said. "You've got to put it all out there, or you're on the next flight home."
Wednesday against Serbia, it looked like it would be the United States and not Serbia making the early exit from Beijing, as the U.S. fell behind 2-1 after the third set and was later down by three points midway through the fifth and decisive game.
"We're usually pretty good at fighting," Millar said. "Even if we're down, like at 7-4, all of us are pretty confident that we can come back."
In the fifth set, the U.S. rallied from the three-point deficit to take a three-point advantage at 13-10 en route to the match-clinching win.
"Mentally and emotionally, it's a difficult way to play when it's five sets neck and neck all the way because it comes down to one or two plays at the end of each set," said Lambourne, who posted a team-best seven digs. "Luckily it was our one or two plays at the end of that last set."
Clayton Stanley and Reid Priddy shared U.S.-high honors with 14 kills, while Millar added another four to his team-best seven blocks.
Ivan Miljkovic finished with 23 kills for Serbia.
Best of all, Millar senses a difference with this year's Olympics team vs. the '04 squad.
"There's a bit of a different vibe," he said. "I think this team meshes and jells, especially when we're in the heat of battle."
Wednesday's quarterfinal victory gave the undefeated United States a 6-0 record in Beijing and a 9-0 mark if you include the final three World League matches en route to its first-ever such title.
"This is why the Olympics are so special, because it truly is the ultimate test of volleyball," Millar said. "All the best teams are playing at their best the whole tournament long, and if you're not on your game for one or two matches, you get to go home."
And while Serbia is headed home, the U.S. gets to stick around Beijing and hopes to continue its great run toward Olympics gold."We're playing great volleyball at a great time to be playing great volleyball," Millar said.
E-mail: [email protected]