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Newz Forum: OLYMPICS:  Huge rally lifts U.S. men into volleyball semifinals

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posted on Aug, 26 2004 @ 09:55 AM
Lloy Ball began reflecting on his career as if it were over, while his U.S. men's volleyball teammates wore the blank expressions of players just five points from elimination. Trailing 2-1 in sets and 20-12 in points, the Americans were all but done. This quarterfinal match against Greece, however, was far from over.

Getting contributions from everyone on the roster, the United States snapped to life — rallying past the stunned Greeks to win in five sets and move into the Olympic semifinals for the first time in 12 years.

"I'm not going to lie and say I thought we had a chance to come back," Ball said, "because I didn't."

Kevin Barnett scored 20 points and Reid Priddy added 16 for the Americans in the 25-20, 22-25, 25-27, 25-23, 17-15 victory that guaranteed them a spot in one of the medal games for the first time since they earned a bronze at Barcelona in 1992.

They'll play Friday against Brazil, which swept Poland. Also, Russia eliminated defending gold medalist Serbia-Montenegro and Italy beat Argentina — both in four sets. The Russians and Italians will meet in the other semifinal.

Antrej Kravarik scored 26 points for Greece, which had 9,300 raucous fans behind it the whole way — only to watch the U.S. team fight back in arguably the tournament's most competitive match.

"It looked like the end," Barnett said, "but you get a couple points and everybody starts believing ... and you're right back in the match."

The Americans trailed 8-1 in that amazing fourth set. They scored six straight, the first on a kill by Ryan Millar, to pull within 20-16. Suddenly they led 24-22, and two points later Barnett evened it at two sets apiece with a well-placed spike.

Greece didn't quit. With the crowd going crazy and injured middle blocker Theodoros Chatziantoniou cheering from his back after severely twisting his ankle earlier in the match, the Greeks took a 14-13 lead in the seesaw fifth set.

Kravarik's serve landed wide, and U.S. backup setter Donald Suxho — faking a pass at the net — flipped the ball into the Greek backcourt to give the Americans a 15-14 advantage.

Millar's kill made it 16-15. When Sotirios Pantaleon's spike attempt missed on U.S. match point, the Americans launched the celebration and the Greek players looked on in agony.

"Incredible isn't even a good word," Millar said. "It's impossible to comeback from 20-12 against a team like Greece. The way they were playing, the way we were playing — it's impossible."

Greece's captain, Marios Gkiouradas, didn't take the defeat well. He angrily grabbed the net and motioned that an American blocker touched it on the final point — before sprinting over to complain to one of the officials.

A few minutes later, Gkiourdas gestured and screamed at some local reporters for being too critical of him and not supporting the team enough.

"What on earth can I say?" Gkiourdas said through a translator at a news conference after calming down. "Somehow, somewhere, the team started to give up and it went downhill."

Greece, the world's 12th-ranked team coming into the tournament, received an automatic qualification for its first Olympics as the host country.

But the Greeks have clearly played like they've deserved to be here. They went 3-2 in pool play, losing only to Serbia-Montenegro in five sets and Argentina in four. They also finished second in blocking and third in spiking among all 12 teams during the preliminaries.

"I hope that these times will fade, when I grow old and start forgetting," Greece coach Stylianos Prosalikas said through an interpreter. "It was the most dramatic match of my whole career. Tonight, we threw away a great chance."

Greece's ability was not lost on the U.S team.

"I really wish that both teams could pass, because I think it was one of the most amazing matches I have ever played in," Ball said. "If all teams in the tournament played this hard, it'd be the most amazing tournament in the world."


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