US undefeated in volleyball pool play

Aug. 18, 2008, 1:42 p.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) The U.S. men's volleyball team is riding five victories - and the confidence that brings - into the Olympic quarterfinals.

The United States remained unbeaten in Beijing by defeating Japan in three sets (25-18, 25-12, 25-21) to wrap up preliminary pool play. The men finished atop their pool and will face Serbia in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.

"The goal was to peak in Beijing, and I think that's what we're doing," coach Hugh McCutcheon said.

Japan, already eliminated before the match, finished 0-5 in Olympic competition.

The United States was playing only its second match with coach McCutcheon present on the sidelines. The coach missed the first three after his in-laws were attacked on the second day of the games.

The United States easily cruised through the first set, winning it on David Lee's block.

Japan's errors cost the team in the second, won easily again by the Americans. Match point came on Riley Salmon's successful spike.

Japan rallied in the third, evening the match at 16-all, but the team could not pull ahead.

"We played good today," middle blocker Ryan Millar said. "We might have overwhelmed Japan a little bit. It was tough for them. They were already out of it."

Millar led the United States with 10 points with four blocks. Tatsuya Fukuzawa led the Japanese with 10 points.

"We were really trying our best to fight hard and present the spirit of the Japanese team," Fukuzawa said. "It is such a pity that we lost."

The U.S. team has shown resilience in Beijing despite facing adversity.

McCutcheon's father-in-law, Todd Bachman, was fatally stabbed and his mother-in-law was badly wounded at a popular tourist site in Beijing the day after the opening ceremony. The assailant, who authorities say was despondent over family matters, then killed himself.

McCutcheon comforted his wife, former Olympic volleyball player Elisabeth "Wiz" Bachman McCutcheon in the days following the attack. Only after Barbara Bachman had recovered enough to be taken back to the United States by air ambulance did he rejoin the team.

If anything, the tragedy brought the U.S. team closer together.

"What we like to do is control our own destiny. We put ourselves in a great position to win our pool, and we went out and did it on the court," captain Tom Hoff said.

In the day's earlier matches, Italy held off China 3-2 (17-25, 23-25, 25-21, 25-20) and Serbia defeated Egypt 3-0 (25-16, 25-13, 25-17) to stay alive. Egypt was winless in pool play and did not advance.

Serbia stayed alive as the fourth-place finisher in its pool.

After Brazil defeated Germany 3-0 (25-22, 25-21, 25-23), German coach Stelian Moculescu formally stepped down.

Moculescu had previously announced he was retiring after nine years with the team. Germany, whose volleyball team was making its first trip to the Olympics since the 1972 Munich games, was eliminated by falling to 1-4 in the preliminary round.

"Brazil is a celebrated team and they played beautiful volleyball. For the people, the spectators, the best team is Brazil," he said. "My team played well, but this is my last match as the coach of the German team."

Brazil, which finished atop its pool, faces host China in the quarterfinals. Bulgaria will play Russia and Italy will play Poland in the other quarterfinal matches.

Bulgaria defeated Venezuela 3-1 (23-25, 25-19, 25-16, 25-22). Venezuela finished pool play 1-4 to be eliminated.

Poland came from behind after three sets to defeat Russia 3-2 (17-25, 26-24, 24-26, 25-23, 15-12).