BEIJING 2008 OLYMPICS
Kaiser and UH alumnus Clay Stanley and his U.S. teammates will go for gold against Brazil at 6 p.m. today Hawaii time.
U.S. volleyball faces Brazil in Olympic final
BEIJING » Lloy Ball shared hugs with his teammates and coaches, then ran to the stands after the U.S. men's volleyball team earned a spot in the Olympic gold medal match with a semifinal win over Russia.
Just two weeks ago, Ball questioned whether his family should risk making the trip to China from Indiana following the stabbing death of U.S. coach Hugh McCutcheon's father-in-law at a Beijing tourist site. Ultimately they came, to support a U.S. team that's now 7-0 and within a victory of its first Olympic championship in 20 years.
Ball had tears in his eyes as he reached up to grasp the hands of wife, Sarah, and 7-year-old son, Dyer, in celebration of the U.S. team's 25-22, 25-21, 25-27, 22-25, 15-13 win, just its second in 13 matches against Russia and first since 1993.
Former Hawaii opposite Clay Stanley had a team-high 19 points with 11 kills, seven aces and a block.
The second-ranked Americans will face Brazil at 6 p.m. today Hawaii time; the Brazilians beat Italy 19-25, 25-18, 25-21, 25-22 in the other semifinal.
"To see those faces, it's something I'll cherish for the rest of my life," said Ball, whose son's name is tattooed on his right shoulder. "This win is emotional for so many reasons."
The winning streak started a day after the Aug. 9 death of McCutcheon's father-in-law, Todd Bachman, the chief executive officer of a Minneapolis-based garden center and an ardent supporter of the U.S. volleyball programs.
McCutcheon, 38, took a week's leave after the attack, spending time with his wife, Elisabeth, and mother-in-law, Barbara, who was critically wound in the attack. He returned to the team on Aug. 16.
"You almost have to mentally prepare to come into the gym," McCutcheon, a New Zealander, said after the win. "One of the reasons I'm here is that I know that so many more lives are invested in this than just my own in terms of what our team is trying to do here. I wouldn't be here if I wasn't ready to give them everything I've got."
Before facing Russia -- a rematch of the bronze-medal match from Athens the U.S. lost 3-0 -- McCutcheon shared with his players an e-mail of encouragement from Elisabeth, who's better known as "Wiz" in U.S. volleyball circles. She played for the U.S. women's team four years ago in Athens and remains close to many members of this year's squad.
Team USA has won its last 10 matches, including the 2008 FIVB World League title last month. The Americans are guaranteed a medal-stand appearance for the first time since 1992, when they earned the bronze medal in Barcelona. The U.S. won the Olympic gold medal in 1984 and 1988.
Greatly outnumbered by Russia's fans, supporters of the U.S., including Ball's wife and son, waved small American flags and yelled until they were almost hoarse.
"I can't tell you how happy we are to be able to be here, to experience this," Sarah Ball said. "It's just been amazing and it's not done yet."
Their presence was even more meaningful for husband Ball, who at 36 is the oldest member of the U.S. team and is making his fourth, and last, Olympic appearance. He first played on the team in 1996, four years after the U.S. won its last medal, a bronze, at the Barcelona Games.
Now his team is seeking its first gold since a Karch Kiraly-led squad won two straight titles in 1984 and 1988.
While McCutcheon said he's talked with his wife by phone as many as three times a day for the past week, his focus in the gym has been on the team and its quest for gold. After the final, win or lose, he'll have more pressing concerns.
"This is wonderful for our team and for the guys for the number of hours and years that they've invested in this process," McCutcheon said. "It's a fantastic achievement and I'll embrace it and enjoy it. But as soon as we're done, I have to get back to where I'm needed, which is with my family."