LONDON - Destinee Hooker scored 22 points and the U.S. women's volleyball team improved to 3-0 with a three-set preliminary round victory over China at the London Olympics on Wednesday.
Megan Hodge added 18 points for the top-ranked U.S. team in the 26-24, 25-16, 31-29 win. Zeng Chunlei scored 10 points, including two aces, for No. 3 China, which fell to 2-1 in the preliminary round.
It was the United States' eighth straight victory over China in international competition. The team's last loss came at the 2007 World Grand Prix.
The U.S. women are among the favorites to medal in London. The team has never won an Olympic gold medal in indoor volleyball.
They brought the silver home from Beijing after falling in the final to Brazil. In an early-round rematch in London, the U.S. came away with a 3-1 victory over No. 2-ranked Brazil.
In the late match Wednesday, South Korea upset the Brazilians three straight sets, dropping them to 1-2 in the preliminary round.
Hugh McCutcheon, who led the American men to the gold medal in Beijing before shifting to the women's team, led the U.S. to the top spot in the international rankings late last year to end Brazil's four-year run at No. 1.
Logan Tom's ace in the first set made it 12-10 and it appeared the U.S. was making a move, but China pulled in front 19-18 on Wei Qiuyue's kill. Tom's misplayed dig gave China a short-lived 23-20 advantage.
Hooker's block and a pair of spikes from Hodge made it 16-13 and the U.S. pulled away in the second set.
Jinling Chu's ace pulled China in front 19-18 in the hard-fought third set, which was won when China could not return another kill by Hodge. Wei Qiuyue, who tried to block Hodge, raised her hands to her face and had to be consoled by her teammates as the U.S. celebrated.
"Megan came off the bench and provided us some great offense in the second and third sets," McCutcheon said. "We feel very comfortable with her out there taking those big swings with the set on the line or the match on the line."
Chinese star Wang Yimei, a 6-foot-2 wing spiker known for her powerful jump serve, was coming off of surgery to repair ligament damage in her right ankle and was held out of the third set. She had six points in the match against the United States.
China, which won the bronze in Beijing, struggled going into the games, losing four straight matches at the recent FIVB World Grand Prix while resting Wang. Chinese coach Yu Juemin caused a bit of a stir when he suggested a three-week vegetarian diet was responsible for the team's poor showing in the tournament.
The team eschewed meat while preparing for the Grand Prix away from their usual training facility, because there were concerns about meat tainted with the chemical clenbuterol, which is illegally used to bulk up livestock and produce leaner meat.
Clenbuterol is on the World Anti-Doping Agency's list of banned substances as an anabolic agent that builds muscle and burns fat, and athletes who test positive can face bans of up to two years.
However, Yu told reporters before the start of the London Games that he was satisfied with the current fitness of his team. The Chinese defeated Serbia and Turkey in its opening matches.
China, Serbia, Turkey and South Korea are in the six-team pool with the U.S. and No. 2 Brazil. Japan, Russia, Italy, Algeria, the Dominican Republic and Britain make up the other pool. The top four teams from each group advance to the quarterfinals, and a team's finish in pool play will determine its opponent in the quarters.
With the victory, the U.S. is assured a spot in the quarterfinals. Now they play for positioning.
"Looking at it before the Olympics, wow, our pool was so tough," U.S. captain Lindsey Berg said. "Our first goal is obviously to get out of it. And we did that but now our goal is to be No. 1 to play the fourth seed of the other pool to give us the best chance to move on."
The suprising South Koreans improved to 2-1 with the 25-23, 25-21 25-21 upset of Brazil.
In an earlier preliminary round matches, Carolina del Pilar Costagrande had 12 points and Italy improved to 3-0 with a straight-set victory over Britain.
Simona Gioli added 11 points, including two aces, in the 27-25, 25-12, 25-12 victory for the fourth-ranked Italians.
Captain Lynne Beattie had 11 points for Britain, which fell to 1-2 in the preliminary round at Earls Court.
The British team was coming off its first-ever Olympic victory in volleyball, a five-set rally over Algeria on Monday.
It was more than just a pool victory for No. 69-ranked Britain, which is playing in the London Games as the host team. Government funding for the British women was cut two years ago. Since then, the team has been self-funded, with the players sponsoring a charity bike ride and even personally calling potential sponsors for help.
Some said that a set victory at the London Games would be an accomplishment for Britain. The win over African champion Algeria was completely unexpected.
But Britain was unable to repeat the feat against Italy.
"The game plan was to stay in contention — get to the 20s and compete. We can hold our heads high," Rachel Laybourne said.
In the early matches on Wednesday, Japan swept the Dominican Republic (25-20, 25-19, 25-23) to improve to 2-1 in the preliminary round. The Dominican Republic has yet to win in London.
Russia defeated Algeria in straight sets (25-7, 25-14, 25-15) to improve to 3-0. Algeria is also winless. Turkey is 1-2 in pool after a sweep of winless Serbia (25-20, 25-12, 25-21).