Olympic volleyball: E-mail from stabbing victim's daughter buoys team's gold-medal bid

Men will play for gold medal on Sunday
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Updated: 8:23 AM- BEIJING - The e-mail arrived in the morning, from the coach's wife whose father was killed and mother seriously injured in the savage stabbing attack that shocked the players and threatened to derail their medal drive before it even began.

It said she was proud of them.

Hours later, her husband and several of his former Brigham Young players were giving Elisabeth "Wiz" McCutcheon and her family another reason to be proud Friday - dramatically leading the U.S. men's volleyball team into the gold-medal match at the Beijing Olympics, just one day after former Highland High School star Logan Tom did the same with the women.

"To be realizing that goal, and certainly under the various circumstances that we've dealt with throughout this tournament, it feels phenomenal," former Cougar Rich Lambourne said.

Indeed, the Americans whose Olympics began in such deep despair have worked through the cloud of tragedy to arrive at the precipice of triumph, one thrilling victory at the time.

Both the men and the women are one win away from the first gold medal by either of them since the 1988 Seoul Games - both teams will play Brazil, the women on Saturday and the men Sunday -- and they could complete an historic sweep, with their compatriots having already swept the golds on the beach.

"We've got so much motivation," setter Lloy Ball said. "We've got motivation coming out of our ears."

Not only are the men playing for coach Hugh McCutcheon and his grieving family, but they're playing for the veterans on the team - including four-time Olympian Ball and former Cougar player and coach Ryan Millar - who have endured some lean years since the program's zenith in the 1980s.

Just like Tom, Millar is playing his third Olympics, still waiting to have his first medal draped around his neck.

"We've been around so long, we've seen everything," Millar said.

"We've seen not getting out of the pool to getting out of our pool, barely getting past the quarters and losing in the bronze-medal match, now going to the gold-medal match. So we have quite the array of experience on this team."

That was a big help in their pulsating, slam-for-slam 25-22, 25-21, 25-27, 22-25, 15-13 semifinal victory over Russia at the Capital Gymnasium on Friday, when the Russians came roaring back after losing the first two sets.

But with the deciding set tied at 13-13, it was Olympic rookie David Lee who came up with the biggest plays, slamming home a monster kill and then blocking a savage shot by Russian Maxim Mikhaylov - he had blasted 28 kills by then - to send the Americans into a joyous celebration while several of the Russian players fell to their knees and collapsed on the floor.

"It was just two teams giving everything they had, and luckily enough, we pulled it out in the end," Millar said. "It easily could have went either way. ... That fifth set was amazing, because it was just so back-and-forth, back-and-forth. Nobody really got a big lead at all, and we have confidence that we have the players that can make some key plays at the end, and that's kind of what happened."

It was the 10th straight victory for the Americans, who had to rally in the quarterfinals to beat Serbia.

Now, they're hoping to rally and finish a job that almost didn't get started.

"This team represents what's good about team sports," coach McCutcheon said. "By that I mean, the sum of our parts is much greater than the individual aspects of this team. ... They want to be part of something bigger than themselves, and volleyball is the mechanism they've chosen to do that, and this team is doing it the right way."