Thursday, August 9, 2012

Olympics | Playing for gold: USA defeats South Korea

USA 3, South Korea 0 (25-20, 25-22, 25-22)
Gold Medal Match: USA vs. Brazil, Saturday, August 11, 10:30am

On a day when its passing and setting were less than stellar, USA found a way to outlast South Korea in straight sets to reach Saturday’s Olympic gold medal match.
Destinee Hooker celebrates during USA's 3-0 semifinal victory over South Korea
-Associated Press
Destinee Hooker was again the star. She had 21 kills and just 1 error on 33 attempts. Her incredible .606 average marked the sixth straight match she has improved her efficiency.

South Korea’s Yeon-Koung Kim, whom many regarded before these Olympics as the world’s best hitter, had 18 kills and 5 errors on 37 attempts (.351) Kim’s numbers were almost precisely the same as her seven-match average during the Games.
Lindsey Berg, coming off a calf injury, set most of the match for USA. She often struggled when USA’s passing was off, and never found her rhythm with outside hitter Logan Tom (6 kills/5 errors/20 attempts/.050).
USA's Jordan Larson (red) blocks
Yeon-Koung Kim (white)
-Associated Press
Outside hitter Jordan Larson, however, got better as the match went on. As USA’s passing finally improved during the third set, Larson took over the offense at several key points, turning difficult sets into smart kills off the South Korean block. When the Koreans tried to set opposite, Larson was there, coming up with her best blocking match of these Olympics. She finished with 10 kills and 2 errors on 23 attempts (.348) and had 3 termination blocks, plus a hand on many more.
All three sets were close. In set one, USA led 21-18. Set two was tied at 22. Set three was tied at 21. Throughout the match, USA’s defense was erratic, failing to take care of several Korean free balls and overpasses. In the crucial second set, however, South Korea’s demise was self-inflicted. It followed a net serve with a back row attack error, failure to cover a smart Larson tip, and a final attack beyond the end line.
“We didn’t play our best in the tournament so far,” said Berg. “We did play better after we reached 20 points.”
USA coach Hugh McCutcheon added, “We need to make some adjustments after the match.”
One adjustment might be to find a way to keep middle blockers Foluke Akinradewo and Christa Harmotto more involved in the offense. Berg often set Akinradewo immediately after time-outs, but continued her tendency to look primarily to Hooker the rest of the time. South Korea employed a similar strategy with Kim; the difference seemed to be that Kim fell out of rhythm, while Hooker never did.
Even so, the Hooker-first strategy may have made the match closer than it needed to be.
Lindsey Berg celebrates a point against
South Korea
-Associated Press
Setter Courtney Thompson, who replaced Berg in Tuesday’s decisive semifinal victory against Dominican Republic, saw limited action in the final two sets today. She had several assists and turned in a couple of strong defensive plays. But when Thompson comes in, McCutcheon gives Hooker a rest, and Thompson is left without USA’s biggest weapon.
As she has throughout the Olympics, Tama Miyashiro saw brief action in each set as a designated server.
Berg, who is retiring after Saturday’s gold medal match, says she wants to start that contest.
“I feel OK now; my team helped me a lot,” Berg said. “I don’t need to run around. Saturday, I will play my best. If I can’t walk after the match, I don’t care.”

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