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Olympics: U.S. women beat Brazil, aim for volleyball peak

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United States' Lindsey Berg, right, and teammate Logan Tom, left, celebrate during a women's preliminary volleyball match against Brazil at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Monday, July 30, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

By Michael C. Lewis

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Jul 30 2012 02:15PM
Updated Jul 31, 2012 12:46AM

London • The last time Logan Tom faced the volleyball powerhouse that is Brazil in the Olympics, she pounded and pounded and pounded away at the net, yet could not break through an impenetrable front line to deliver a historic gold medal to the United States.

But that was four years ago.

Today is a new day, and Tom has it by the throat.

In a rematch of the gold-medal game from the Beijing Olympics, the former Salt Lake City resident helped the Americans make fairly short work of the Brazilians in a preliminary-round game at Earls Court, winning 25-18, 25-17, 22-25, 25-21 on Monday night and validating their No. 1 world ranking.

It was also their sixth straight victory over the defending champions, though, which is why it wasn’t as big a deal to Tom and her teammates as history might suggest.

"We play against Brazil all the time," she said. "Every year. I’ve played with them. A lot of them are my friends. I talk to them throughout the year. When we step on the court, yeah, we want to win and we’re very competitive, as teams, as players, as professionals. But after the game I give them a kiss and say good job. They’re great people."

And Tom, a great player.

Now playing in her fourth Olympics, she began her career shortly after graduating from Highland High School and embarking on an All-American college career at Stanford.

Four years removed from the silver-medal performance in Beijing that left her in tears — "tears of happiness," she said at the time — she’s 31 years old now and back as one of the key veterans on a team that seems to have reached the oft-described "next level" under former Brigham Young University men’s coach Hugh McCutcheon.

McCutcheon took over the U.S. women’s program after coaching its men to gold in Beijing, where his mother-in-law was killed in a random attack on the eve of the Games, and has built it into the world’s pre-eminent power.

"The American team — I’ve said this many times — is, at this moment, the best team in the world," Brazil coach Jose Guimaraes said.

Indeed, the Americans wrested the No. 1 world ranking from Brazil last year after snapping an 11-game losing streak in the series, and opened their Olympics with a victory over Korea.

Gold is on their minds.

"I think our best is yet to come," McCutcheon said. "I really do. There’s phases of the game that we can improve on, and we need to improve on, actually, because every team, over the course of this thing, gradually gets a little bit better as they work out the kinks."

The Americans are now a mix of old and new, with five players on the 12-woman roster back from Beijing.

Tom is no longer the star of the show, though, with that mantle having been passed to 24-year-old sensation Destinee Hooker, who had 23 points in the latest triumph over the Brazilians. Tom had 12, including a gentle tip shot over the blocking wall for the match-winner — a stark contrast to all of the pounding blasts she couldn’t get through at the end, four years ago.

McCutcheon calls her the "glue."

"She keeps us together and gels the team," setter Lindsey Berg said. "She’s not our go-to hitter anymore, maybe, the way she was in Beijing and Athens and Sydney. But without Logan, we can’t run our offense. She passes half the court almost, she makes plays that nobody else I think in the world makes. She’s one of the smartest volleyball players that has been, in the women’s game."

And she’s surely hoping to cap a wondrous international career — presuming it ends after London; she hasn’t said — with the gold medal that has eluded her for so long.

For now, though, the Americans are preaching a one-at-a-time motto, knowing they still have three more preliminary round games before reaching the knockout stages. Unbeaten China looms in their next match Wednesday, with Russia and Italy also potential threats from the other group.

That’s why the victory was so important, Berg said.

Not because of four years ago.

"It’s a big deal to get a win, in any match," she said. "Every match. … Anytime we step on this court, we want to send a message to the other teams, to ourselves, that we believe in ourselves and we trust one another and — gosh, it’s so incredible playing with this team.

"I don’t think I’ve seen our peak yet, the whole quad," she added. "And that’s exciting. And scary, because I think we’re amazing."

mcl@sltrib.com

Twitter: @MCLTribune

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