US women's vball team tries for 1st Olympic gold

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Destinee Hooker is the fire of the U.S. volleyball team. Lindsey Berg is its heart.

Together the two women will try to win the United States' first gold medal in the sport when the team faces Brazil in Saturday's final match at the London Games.

Berg, the team's captain, is a three-time Olympian who has been here before: The U.S. team made it to the gold medal match at the Beijing Games, but fell 3-1 to the Brazilians.

That team didn't have Hooker, an Olympic rookie who was a last-minute cut from the team that went to China.

Hooker's been electric at the London Games, where she's second among all players in scoring with 147 points, 123 of them on kills.

As setter, Berg is the one who often feeds the lanky wing spiker for the kill.

''She's incredible,'' Berg says. ''She's playing like a vet right now and it's very easy to play with her. And I'm lucky that's who I have to set up because she makes my balls look good.''

Hugh McCutcheon, who guided the U.S. men's team on an undefeated run to the gold medal in Beijing, moved over to the women's side and made Hooker a key component of his offense.

Hooker dissolved into tears when talking about the faith McCutcheon put in her.

''Now I'm at this level that I never thought I'd be, and I have so many little girls who look up to me,'' Hooker said. ''It's truly a blessing.''

The U.S. women are undefeated in London and advanced to the gold medal rematch against Brazil with a straight-set victory over South Korea that was fueled by Berg's emotional return after missing a game with a left Achilles strain.

Berg hurt her leg in the Americans' final preliminary-round match against Turkey on Sunday. The United States was tightlipped about the extent of her injury and when she might return because that could have given opponents an advantage.

Berg says she's officially day-to-day.

''But I'm sure the adrenaline for the gold-medal match will kick in and I'll feel perfect,'' she said.

It will be the U.S. team's third appearance in the Olympic final. The United States won the silver medal in the 1984 Los Angeles Games before earning another in Beijing. The team won bronze in Barcelona in 1992.

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.

The United States and Brazil have split eight matches since volleyball joined the Olympics in 1964.

The Brazilians went undefeated in Beijing before defeating the surprising U.S. team 3-1 in the final.

The two teams met again in London in the preliminary round, with the United States turning the tables for a 3-1 victory. Hooker had 23 points in the win.

''Both teams are very different teams and very strong teams. Brazil's very emotional, so sometimes that's a good thing for them and sometimes a bad thing for them,'' Berg said. ''Both teams are going to be incredible. It's the gold-medal match.''

Late last year, Brazil surrendered its four-year hold on the No. 1 ranking to the United States. Brazil is ranked No. 2 by the sport's international governing body.

''It's another final now. Previous Olympic Games we were the favorite and now the United States is the favorite,'' Brazil's Sheilla Castro said. ''Not sure it will be more difficult or not, they are always difficult.''

South Korea and Japan will play in Saturday's bronze medal match. Japan hasn't won a medal in the sport since it captured the bronze in 1984.

South Korea's best finish in the Olympics was the bronze in the 1976 Montreal Games.

Tagged: Lindsey Berg, Destinee Hooker

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