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Cook and Hinchley go down in epic battle

29 July 2012

BEACH VOLLEYBALL: The Australian pair of Natalie Cook and Tamsin Hinchley put up a great fight against the 2004 and 2008 Olympic champions, but went down narrowly in a classic beach volleyball match against US pair Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh at the Horse Guards Parade Stadium on Saturday night.

Cook, 37, is the only person who has competed in all five Olympic Games as a beach volleyball player since the sport was introduced at this level at Atlanta in 1996. She won a bronze medal playing alongside Kerri Pottharst in Atlanta, and then the Cook-Pottharst combination took gold in Sydney in 2000, in one of the best-received Aussie wins of those Games.

Cook came up with some typically great plays last night, but while it wasn’t enough and the Aussies lost their first match of the preliminary round in two sets, their performance should give them great optimism for the rest of the tournament.

Cook admitted that it was a lost opportunity for the Aussie pair.

“We could have won that game 2-0 ourselves, but if you see the history of the matches with them you get close but they seem to have something that enables them to win.”

“I expect they will be in the medal matches and I hope we play them again.

“The match tonight should set us up well for the rest of the tournament because we know it could be tough and we have been able to come in at a high standard straight away.”

It was a cold night in London, and this match was the last on the program – not starting until 11pm. But most of the big crowd hung around, and there was tremendous support for both teams.

The first set was very tight, and the Australian pair kept their noses in front  for the first half of it. They led 10-8 and 11-9, but then the Americans began to get the upper hand.

Their got their first lead at 15-14, but it was still anyone’s set at 18-18. Critically, the Americans powered home, winning the last three points to take it 21-18.

The second set developed into another close battle. The US led 2-1, and 3-2, and then the Aussies led 8-7, and 9-8. Then the Aussies upped to ante, pushing their lead out to 10-8, and soon after 12-9. They had put themselves in a great position to go on and win the second set and take the match to a deciding third.

Australia went on to establish a four-point lead, 13-9, but then the US won three straight points to get right back into the battle at 13-12 down. After a time-out the Americans won the next point as well, to make it 13-13. The Aussies were under real pressure now, but Hinchley made a great block shot at the net to put them back in front, 14-13.

That play gave the Aussies a great lift, and soon after they led 16-14, but again the Americans fought back, this time to 16-16. The match was developing into a real nail-biter as the Aussies desperately tried to stay alive. They fell behind 18-17, got back to 18-18, fell behind again at 19-18 and again got level, at 19-19.

But the US set up match point at 20-19, and then the two teams fought out the best point of the match, with desperate shots all over the place to keep the ball alive, before the Americans came up with the shot to take the second set 21-19, and the match.

Greg Prichard
Olympics.com.au

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