U.S. women’s volleyball bests Brazil in prelim

LONDON — The U.S. women’s volleyball team defeated Brazil on Monday in a much-anticipated preliminary game that served both as a rematch of the 2008 Olympic final and a possible preview of this year’s gold-medal contest.

Led by Destinee Hooker’s 22 points, the top-ranked American women played aggressively as they beat the reigning Olympic champions, 3-1, at Earls Court. The U.S. squad – which won, 25-18, 25-17, 22-25, 25-21 — improved to 2-0 in pool play.

Brazil seemed to regain some of its form during a hard-fought third set, only to lose its way again in a mistake-prone fourth.

“There were some ups and downs, but we played really well,” said U.S. wing spiker Jordan Larson, who finished with 16 points. “We had a tough start, but we found our rhythm. Brazil always battles, but we came strong for the win.”

Played in front of a raucous crowd that included U.S. men’s basketball star Kobe Bryant, the match had been billed as the toughest of all early-round games, with the Americans facing their longtime rivals and the world’s No. 2-ranked team in Brazil. Both countries’ players, however, downplayed the significance of the game as the women traded hugs and smiles before post-match news conferences.

“We play against Brazil all the time,” U.S. wing spiker Logan Tom said. “I play with some of them. A lot of them are my friends.”

The match marked Brazil’s fifth straight loss to the United States. The Brazilian’s four-year reign at No. 1 ended in late 2011, when the Americans took over the top spot.

The teams are now 21-21 against each other.

“The American team — I’ve said this many times — is, at this moment, the best team in the world,” Brazil Coach Jose Guimaraes said.

Brazilian star Fabiana Claudino praised the U.S. team for its largely error-free play and for capitalizing on her squad’s mistakes. She predicted that the preliminary game would serve as a preview of the tournament’s gold-medal match.

“We know that USA is very strong and we cannot play like we did today,” Claudino said. “We need to improve all our fundamentals.”

While insisting that the U.S. team does not dwell on its 2008 Olympic loss, captain Lindsey Berg said the squad had hoped to make a statement with Monday’s game. The American women have never won a gold medal in any of their sports’ three major tournaments: the Olympic Games, world championships and world cup.

“Any time we step on this court we want to send a message to the other teams that we believe in ourselves and we trust one another,” Berg said.

The U.S. squad will face China, the second-strongest team in its pool, Wednesday. Brazil will play South Korea, which lost 3-1 to the Americans on the tournament’s opening day.

In other matches Monday, China beat Turkey, 3-1, and South Korea beat Serbia, 3-1, in the U.S. team’s Group B. In Group A, Russia beat the Dominican Republic, 3-1, Italy beat Japan, 3-1, and Britain beat Algeria, 3-2.