U.S. Men Exit Olympic Games with Volleyball Loss
Clayton Stanley (No. 13) and Russell Holmes (No. 12) try to block a shot from Italy's Cristian Savani during the men's volleyball quarterfinals
LONDON -- There will be no magical run to another gold for the U.S. men's volleyball team. There will not even be a medal.
The defending Olympic champions were knocked out of the London Games in straight sets by Italy in a quarterfinal Wednesday.
David Lee sat on the bench for a long time after the loss, staring at the court. Captain Clay Stanley sarcastically cracked he had "all the time in the world" to talk.
"You work four years for this to get here and then just not show up for the game. It's kind of tough," he said, adding after a pause: "Not necessarily not show up, but just kind of get taken advantage of."
Four years ago in Beijing, the Americans banded together after their coach's father-in-law was stabbed to death at a Chinese tourist site a day before the opening ceremony. They went undefeated and upset Brazil for the gold medal.
The fifth-ranked U.S. men were undone by mistakes and by a stunning service game by the sixth-ranked Italians, who made it to the semifinals as the fourth seed in their pool after the preliminary round.
Dragan Travica and captain Cristian Savani each had four aces for Italy. Savani finished with 19 points in the 28-26, 25-20, 25-20 victory.
U.S. setter Donald Suxho bent over with his hands on his knees and shook his head as Italy celebrated the win at Earls Court. After congratulating the Italians, the Americans turned and applauded the many U.S. fans in the crowd.
Wing spiker Reid Priddy wadded up his finger tape and threw it to the ground as he left the court.
"We had great plans for what we wanted to do here," U.S. coach Alan Knipe said. "We're disappointed. We're leaving London without a medal."
The gold in Beijing was the team's third in men's volleyball, which became an Olympic sport in 1964. Russia is the only other nation with three golds. Italy has never won the gold, but has won silver twice, most recently at the 2004 Athens Games.
The Italians will face Brazil in Friday's semifinals. The top-ranked Brazilians defeated Argentina 25-19, 25-17, 25-10 earlier in the day.
The U.S. led by Stanley with 16 points, but Stanley couldn't stop Michal Lasko's kill for match point.
"It just seemed like we were looking for someone else to make a play, I don't know," Stanley said.
The U.S. took a 13-9 lead in the first set on Lee's kill, but Italy tied it at 18 on Travica's ace and took the lead on Ivan Zaytsev's spike. The Italians denied the U.S. set point three times before claiming it on another ace from Travica that the Americans thought would sail long.
Inspired, Italy surrendered the lead only briefly in the second set and pulled ahead 20-16 on Lasko's block. Italy won set point when Anderson misplayed the return on Savani's serve for ace. The U.S. argued the point but to no avail.
"We didn't capitalize on our chances," Lee said. "I think the Italian team served extremely well to the point that we couldn't receive and didn't run an offense that was fast enough or good enough to beat their blocks. Give credit to them as far as service, defense. They played great."
With their fans wildly cheering, the Italians went up 13-9 in the third when Stanley's serve sailed out.
"In sport, as in life, you show how strong you are when being strong is the only option you have. We had only one option tonight. We knew it and I think we were ready for that," Italian coach Mauro Berruto said.
The U.S. went 4-1 in the preliminary round to capture the top seed going into the quarterfinals. The Americans beat top-ranked Brazil 3-1 in a rematch of the Brazil finals, but lost in five sets to Russia -- ending an 11-match winning streak in Olympic play, dating to Beijing.
The Americans weren't considered a the medal favorite in London but took the silver in the recent World League tournament and played well in the preliminary round.
Italy went 3-2 in preliminary-round matches, losing to Poland and Bulgaria, the winner of the pool opposite from the Americans. The Italians beat Argentina, Britain and Australia.
"This was the team I was looking for, this is the team I missed in the last five matches, this is the team I was imagining and building when I was thinking about for these moments," Berruto said. "I'm obviously proud. We had doubts and were thinking if what we were doing was right. But I knew deep in my heart that my team was coming out in the right moment."