Another day, another win on the beach for Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh.
This time around, however, it wasn't quite as easy against Zhang Xi and Xue Chen of China.
The Americans, appropriately enough for a game played on the sand, dug themselves an early hole, falling behind 13-7 in the first set after a bunch of missed dig attempts by May-Treanor.
Because it's more difficult to get points from your own serve, it's very unlikely to come back from such a large deficit. But there's a reason these ladies are considered the best ever. The defending champs went on a 6-0 run that included three successful dig attempts and a huge block from each woman.
From there, it returned to the expected back and forth action. The Americans jumped ahead 20-18, but Chen and Xi responded with two crucial points to stay alive in the set.
But after yet another block from Walsh (her third of the set) and a powerful kill from May-Treanor, the Americans took the early lead in the match with a 22-20 set win.
That momentum carried into the second set.
May-Treanor and Walsh jumped out to a 4-1 lead and looked intent on rolling to yet another straight-set victory.
Not so fast.
With Team USA leading 16-14, China reeled off three straight points to take the lead in the set. A few more back and forth responses, however, moved the score to 20-20.
That's when things got really good.
With the ball in hand, the Americans were still at a disadvantage, but May-Treanor pulled off two ridiculous digs in the same exhaustive rally, giving the U.S. the lead. A Walsh block on the next point ended the match—22-20, 22-20.
May-Treanor finished with 22 kills and 17 digs while Walsh chipped in three aces, eight kills and four huge, timely blocks.
The two-time Olympic gold medalists may have dropped a set for the first time in their Olympic history during group play, but this match, which marks their 20th straight Summer Games victory, proved they still aren't going anywhere.
Many people saw an upset looming, and while this turned out to be Team USA's toughest match yet, the dynamic duo, in its most impressive win in a long time, proved the critics wrong.
In their attempt for a third gold medal, May-Treanor and Walsh will either take on fellow countrywomen Jen Kessy and April Ross, or Larissa Franca and Juliana Silva—the top-ranked team in the world from Brazil.
One thing is certain, though: No matter who they face, calling May-Treanor and Walsh anything but the favorites to continue their dominant run through women's beach volleyball would be a mistake.
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