LONDON — Coach Hugh McCutcheon made a special point of seeking out captain Lindsey Berg for a quick hug after the U.S. women's volleyball team advanced to the 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 U.S. women settled for the silver medal in Beijing, falling 3-1 to Brazil. The team has won silver twice and bronze once since volleyball joined the Olympics in 1964.
But the gold has eluded them.
The United States, ranked No. 1 in the world by the sport's international governing body, has rolled undefeated through London, dropping only two sets. Destinee Hooker scored 24 points in the 25-20, 25-22, 25-22 win over South Korea at Earls Court.
Logan Tom spiked for match point to the cheers of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" from the crowd.
"It's great to be in this position," U.S. middle blocker Christa Harmotto said. "It's a position we've worked for for four years, and we're exactly where we want to be."
Berg, a three-time Olympian, hurt her leg in the Americans' final preliminary-round match against Turkey on Sunday. The United States was tightlipped about when the setter might return because that could have given opponents an advantage.
Berg warmed up before the team's straight-set victory 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. "I had time to give her a hug and tell her nice job. If she feels good then the rest of us do as well."
Berg said she was officially day-to-day at this point.
Brazil, which won its first Olympic gold in the sport in Beijing, earned its spot in the London final with a straight-set victory over Japan on Thursday night.
South Korea and Japan will play in Saturday's bronze medal match. It was the first time two Asian teams had made it to the semifinals since the 1988 Seoul Games.
Fifteenth-ranked South Korea upset No. 4 Italy in four sets Tuesday to advance before losing to the Americans. South Korea's best result in Olympic play came at the 1976 Montreal Games, where they won the bronze.
The United States upped its record to 6-2 against South Korea in Olympic matches, including a 3-1 victory in the opening match of the tournament.
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 U.S. 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.
Jordan Larson's spike made it 15-10 in the third set. South Korea fought back to even it at 18 on Kim's ace.
But the U.S. wouldn't let the South Koreans take the lead and Hooker's monster spike set up Tom's kill for the win.Comment on this story
"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.
Kim Yeon-koung scored 20 points for the South Koreans.
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. "Of course I've dreamed it and it was a beautiful dream."