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Star-Bulletin Sports

Tuesday, April 18, 2000

O L Y M P I C _ I S L A N D E R S


U.S. volleyball’s
Lambert finally
gets a breather

The Hawaii native has been a
workhorse for the improving
national volleyball squad in
its series against South Korea

By Joseph D'Hippolito
Special to the Star-Bulletin


Kaneohe native Mike Lambert received an unlikely present for his 26th birthday Friday night: Rest.

Lambert, a regular starter for the United States volleyball team, sat on the bench for the first two games against South Korea before helping the Americans win their fifth consecutive match.

The Punahou graduate made five kills and three blocks in the third game of a 25-22, 25-16, 25-19 victory in front of 1,511 at Cal State Long Beach.

Last night at the Colorado Springs (Colo.) World Arena, the U.S. defeated Korea, 25-22, 23-25, 25-22, 25-20, in front of 3,200 fans. The Americans improved the series record to 3-1 and their 2000 season record to 6-2. The five-match series with Korea will conclude tomorrow at Colorado State in Fort Collins.

"Often on trips like this, we bring a lot of guys to get a better feel for who is going to the Olympics," said Lambert, an All-American at Stanford on Friday's match. "But it was good to get in the third set because I knew all these people were coming, like my parents."

Rest will become a less frequent commodity for the 6-foot-6-inch Lambert as the United States prepares for the Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

"Mike is huge for this team," U.S. coach Doug Beal said. "You can almost look at a straight-line comparison between the rise of this team and his hitting efficiency. As he has gotten better, this team has gotten better."

Lambert experienced his best year last year, when he was named the team's most valuable player. The left-side hitter led the squad with 506 kills and had team highs in kills during upsets of Italy and Cuba in November's World Cup.

"When he's on," said setter and co-captain Lloyd Ball, "he's by far the best player in the world at the net."

Lambert, one of six veterans from the 1996 Olympics, believes the United States has reached a turning point in its quest to rectify a ninth-place finish in Atlanta.

"We're such a young team that maybe a year ago, we thought, if we played our best, maybe we could beat one of the top teams," Lambert said. "Now, when we execute and play with a lot of energy, teams have to play really well to beat us. I feel we're in the top echelon of teams."

One reason is the addition of two All Americans: opposite hitter George Roumain from Pepperdine and middle blocker Ryan Millar from Brigham Young.

"The difference between the college game and the international game is tremendous," Lambert said. "But those two guys came right out dominating. They have great attitudes and they go hard. They're fun to play with."

Another reason is a growing sense of cohesion.

"You look at great offensive and defensive lines in the NFL or good defenses in hockey," Lambert said. "Those guys have been playing together for six, seven seasons before they become a really tight group.

"I'm starting to feel that with my teammates. Knowing each other, knowing our limits and knowing how to push each other has really shown this year."

That cohesion could prove critical against one of the most talented fields in the history of Olympic volleyball.

"Cuba and Brazil always have been really dynamic and strong," Lambert said.

"But we're at a good spot right now. There's still a lot to improve. But if the Olympics start tomorrow and we play at the level I know we can play at, I think we go out and get a medal."

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