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

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.