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U.S. stumbles, teeters on brink of elimination

Published Sep. 16, 2005

The U.S. men's volleyball team was shoved to the brink of elimination from its home Olympics by Bulgaria, which won a dramatic fifth-set tiebreaker Monday night and advanced to the quarterfinals.

The United States had to wait for the conclusion of Monday's late match, needing a Cuba victory over Brazil to make the playoffs. A Brazilian win would put the U.S. team out of medal contention for the first time since the 1980 boycott.

Bulgaria won 15-11, 13-15, 11-15, 15-5, 15-12, with the scoring in the fifth set coming on every serve. The crowd at the Omni was on its feet on match point, but was quieted when crafty Martin Stoev, who had frustrated the Americans all night with his shot selection, pushed the ball across the net and onto the floor.

Afterward, the U.S. players sprawled near their bench before leaving the floor to cheers from a crowd that included Karch Kiraly, who led America to gold medals in 1984 and 1988 and won beach volleyball's first gold medal Sunday. The United States won the bronze in 1992.

The Americans finished pool play with three straight losses for a 2-3 record.

Bulgaria (3-2) supplemented Stoev's hitting with brute power from big hitters like 6-foot-11, 231-pound Ljubomir Ganev and 6-foot-7, 202-pound Dimo Tonev to repeatedly dash U.S. scoring chances.

Team USA's only lead in the fifth set was 1-0 on Jeff Nygaard's kill.