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Young U.S. squad shakes off jitters to sweep Poland in debut

The U.S. men's volleyball team made a statement before its biggest home crowd in eight years _ it's young, aggressive and able to laugh off rookie jitters.

With four starters making their Olympic debut, Team USA overcame a ragged start to sweep Poland 15-13, 15-6 and 15-8 Sunday.

The crowd of 14,200 at the Omni was the biggest to see Team USA since 14,786 watched a Cuba-U.S. match at Minneapolis in 1988, the year the Americans won their second straight Olympic gold medal.

"I looked up and one side was going, "Yeah, USA!"' said 22-year-old Mike Lambert, who responded with an impressive debut. "It was 10 times more than I ever dreamed. It's awesome."

The jitters came on the first play. Lloy Ball overset Dan Landry, who had no chance to hit the ball. Both were in the first minute of their first Olympics.

"I shot it out about 100 mph too fast," Ball said. "We looked at each and smiled. It was good to get it out of the way."

Then, after overcoming deficits of 7-4 and 8-5, Team USA began to find its game.

"We were like, "Hey, we're playing in front of some people, it's the same game, we've got to de-emphasize the Olympic part because this is something we do every day of our lives,"' Ball said.

Lambert, who's on leave from Stanford, is filling the "hammer" position played by Steve Timmons the last three Olympics, Lambert recovered from early mistakes to show a wide array of shots, from service aces to crosscourt spikes and dinks. He finished with a match-high 24 kills.

In the men's opener, Tunisia's slim chance of success in its Olympic volleyball debut disappeared.

One of the team's stars, Atef Loukil, was practicing jump serves before Sunday's opener against the Netherlands when he landed on a stray ball, twisting his ankle so badly he could not play.

Already an underdog, the short, young Tunisian team was overwhelmed 15-4, 15-4, 15-2 by the tallest team in the world.

The second match was closer than expected, with the big hitters of top-ranked Italy finally wearing down a fast, peppy South Korea squad 15-13, 15-12, 15-8. Lorenzo Bernardi had 27 kills and Andrea Giani 18. South Korea's Shin Jin-sik had 23 kills. In Athens, Ga., Yugoslavia provided the first upset with a 10-15, 15-13, 15-10, 15-11 win over Russia.