US wins in Beijing, heads to volleyball semifinals

Aug. 19, 2008, 1:45 p.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) Late in the fifth set, as the U.S. women's volleyball team was rolling past Italy, a fan of the Americans taunted the Italians.

"Arrivederci Italia!" he roared.

And with that, the U.S. women said goodbye to Italy 20-25, 25-21, 19-25, 25-18, 16-6 Tuesday night to advance to the semifinals in Beijing.

The team will face a tough challenge in Cuba, which remained undefeated with a three-set victory over Serbia earlier in the day.

Danielle Scott-Arruda was already thinking of strategy shortly after her team sent the Italians home.

"Fight. Fight. Fight. Fight," she said.

Brazil, the No. 1 ranked team in the world, defeated Japan 3-0 and will face China in the other semifinal on Thursday. China defeated Russia in three sets.

After Italy dominated in the third set, snuffing every U.S. rally, the United States came alive in the fourth. The crowd at Capital Indoor Stadium joined in by chanting "U-S-A! U-S-A!" before Italian captain Elenora Lo Bianco served into the net for set point.

The U.S. rolled through the deciding set on their momentum.

"I think we all said, 'We still have some fight in us - let's take this thing to a fifth set," wing-spiker Logan Tom said about the turning point.

Afterward, the team celebrated with abandon. Ogonna Nnamani was joined by her teammates in a dance. They chanted "U-U-U-U-U-S-A!" And, of course, there were hugs all around.

"That was fun," Tom said.

The U.S. team's trip to Beijing has been marked by both tragedy and triumph.

First, they lost a close friend of the team. A day after opening ceremonies, Todd Bachman was fatally stabbed and his wife Barbara seriously wounded in an apparent random attack at a popular Beijing tourist site, the 13th-century Drum Tower.

The Bachmans, parents of former volleyball Olympian Elisabeth "Wiz" Bachman McCutcheon, had long followed the U.S. team and traveled to many of their tournaments. Their daughter is married to U.S. men's volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon.

The women coped with their grief by winning, writing "Wiz" on their arms and shoulders in magic marker for their matches.

Arguably their biggest victory came against the defending Olympic gold medalists, China. The U.S. women were undaunted by the fervent Chinese crowd and the presence of China's president, Hu Jintao, in the 3-2 win.

The game was a big draw because of U.S. coach Jenny Lang Ping, who led the Chinese team to victory over the U.S. at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

Lang, who was born in Beijing, is a sports hero in China. Her wedding was broadcast on television and she even had a postage stamp issued in her honor.

She was met with thunderous applause every time she took the court in Beijing, even though she now coaches the opposition.

The Americans have lost just one of its six Olympic matches, but Italy gave them a scare at the start.

The Italians went up 21-17 in the first set after Jenny Barazza's block, then added another point when Tom's spike sailed too long. Francessca Piccinini made set point with a successful cross-court spike.

The U.S. team responded by jumping out to a 5-1 lead in the second. Tom played with purpose, winning the final two points on a block and a spike.

But Italy cruised through the third set to put the United States behind.

Tom said there was nothing really said to spark the U.S. team's rally, just the certainty that losing meant the Olympics were over for them. Italy, meanwhile, was stunned.

"Adrenalin is tricky sometimes. It can be positive or negative, as today for us," Barazza said. "We have been worse than them at some moments, better in others, but they won in the end."

The Americans were ranked fourth in the world going into Beijing. Their best finish at the Olympics came in 1984, when they won the silver.

In Athens, they finished fifth.