Although this game is played indoors, life for the U.S. men's volleyball team in the World League was like a day at the beach.
It won its first three matches without losing a game, including a 15-10, 15-9, 17-15 victory over China Friday night at San Diego.
But, 24 hours later in the rematch at the Forum, the 90-pound weakling suddenly began kicking sand in the face of the 1984 and '88 Olympic champion. Bullied but not quite beaten, the United States ultimately responded for a 15-7, 15-11, 16-17, 13-15, 15-13 victory.
"The thing about this game is that you can't relax and let up, particularly concentration," U.S. Coach Fred Sturm said. "China wasn't going to give up."
That was apparent even after the winless Chinese lost the first two games and fell behind, 10-4, in the third.
But just as the crowd, estimated at 3,000, began to seek the exits, the Chinese made it interesting.
Five consecutive points later, they were back in the game and the match. They won that game by one point in sudden death, after the U.S. thwarted them on six game-points, then survived a U.S. comeback to also win the fourth game by two points and force a fifth set.
The United States fell behind, 3-0, in that one before recovering its early form for the victory.
"They hung in there and made a couple of plays and got themselves back in the game," Sturm said of the Chinese, who were 0-12 in the World League two years ago, sat out last year and returned with an apparently more competitive team.
But the game also exposed some weaknesses in the U.S. team after three comparatively easy victories, two against Japan last week and one against the Chinese.
"It was a little confusing out there," U.S. veteran Steve Timmons said. "It's not like we knew where everyone was on the court."
It was predictable that the United States would need an adjustment period after the recent return from the Italian League of three players--Timmons, Jeff Stork and Bob Ctvrtlik.
Timmons had an excellent match Saturday with 33 kills and four blocks. Bob Samuelson had 27 kills and seven blocks, and Brian Ivie had 26 kills and six blocks.
But the team often was not cohesive, a situation made more apparent after outside hitter Ctvrtlik went out in the first game with a bad back.
"I wouldn't single out anyone," Sturm said, "but just the fact that we had to go with another different lineup was difficult."
The schedule does not get easier. After two games this week in Japan, the United States returns to Southern California on the first weekend in June for two games against the powerful Commonwealth of Independent States.