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Team USA nets first victory

Tara Cross-Battle thought the U.S. women's volleyball players might be a little nervous Saturday night in their debut at the Summer Olympics.

But if the Americans had any anxiety, it didn't show as they took an early 8-0 lead and beat Ukraine 15-8, 15-5, 15-11 on the first day of round-robin pool play in the 12-team tournament.

"We've been ready for a while, but we were tired of beating up on each other," said Cross-Battle, who was named the world's most valuable player last year. "We had some butterflies, but it was nice to finally get the chance to go out and beat up on somebody else."

The first five matches of pool play were straight-set victories. Also in Atlanta, China beat the Netherlands 15-10, 15-5, 15-7; and Russia swept Germany 15-5, 15-10, 15-7 to gain revenge for an upset loss in the European qualifying tournament. At Athens, Ga., defending gold medalist Cuba beat inexperienced Canada 15-8, 15-8, 15-5; and Korea beat Japan 15-10, 15-12, 15-10.

With a sellout crowd of 14,750 in the Omni Coliseum chanting "U-S-A, U-S-A" and cheering every point, the U.S. women took command early and never faltered. They overwhelmed Ukraine at the net with their nucleus of Californians, including sisters Bev and Elaina Oden of Irvine, Cross-Battle of Long Beach, Tammy Liley of Westminster and Teee Williams of Long Beach.

"Bev was just awesome tonight," U.S. coach Terry Liskevych said of the 25-year-old middle blocker, who calmly served the Americans to a 6-0 lead in the first Olympic match of her career. "She blocked so many, but she also did a great job all-around."

Liskevych went to his bench in the second set, and three-time Olympic veterans Paula Weishoff and Caren Kemner kept the Americans in control.

"We have a lot of strengths on this team," Liskevych said, "but when we can bring in players like that, it makes us really strong. It's obvious those two are really ready for this tournament."

Despite being heavily favored, the U.S. team had concerns about Ukraine's height and blocking prowess. But the Americans won their only meeting last year 3-0 at the Canada Cup.

Cross-Battle led the U.S. women statistically with 17 winning points (16 kills), followed by Bev Oden with 12, and Weishoff and Elaina Oden with nine each.

On Monday, the U.S. women face the Netherlands (0-1 after being swept in its opening loss to China).