Souhan: Berg enjoys view from atop world of volleyball

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 31, 2012 - 6:47 AM

The former Gophers star is now the U.S. captain, orchestrating a talented squad toward its first gold medal.

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The United States’ Destinee Hooker dominated play against Brazil. “The kid is just incredible,” said teammate Christa Harmotto.

Photo: Jeff Roberson, Associated Press

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LONDON - Lindsey Berg's world travels usually keep her far from her alma mater, the University of Minnesota.

Hugh McCutcheon has yet to start his next job, as the volleyball coach at the University of Minnesota.

Both are scheduled to arrive on campus this fall, Berg to receive an award and McCutcheon to coach the Gophers, and by that time they should be wearing the first Olympic gold medals ever won by the United States women's volleyball team.

Berg, the team captain, and McCutcheon, the team's coach, were the brains behind the United States' 3-1 victory over Brazil on Monday in the second round of pool play. Neither wanted to admit that beating Brazil was symbolic or important. Maybe that's because the U.S., in the past two years, has evolved from targeting Brazil to expecting the world.

The U.S. is ranked first in the world by a wide margin. Four years ago in Beijing, Brazil beat the Americans for the gold. Since then, with McCutcheon taking over as coach, the U.S. has accelerated past the Brazilians, beating them in all four meetings this year.

"I don't think I've seen our peak yet in this squad," Berg said. "And that's exciting, and scary, because I think we're amazing."

The adjective preferred by the British would be "brilliant." The U.S. won 25-18, 25-17, 22-25, 25-21.

"Gosh, it's so incredible to be playing with this team," Berg said. "Even when we were down in the third, we fought back and had a chance to win that set. That helped us in the fourth.

"They're an emotional team. If they had stomped us in the third, they would have come out in the fourth with a lot of confidence."

The Americans are chasing history. The women never have won an Olympic gold, and McCutcheon is trying to become only the second coach ever to win an Olympic volleyball gold medal with men and women. He led the U.S. men to gold four years ago in Beijing.

As with most people chasing milestones, Berg and McCutcheon are concentrating on the nagging details of their craft. For all of top hitter Destinee Hooker's high-velocity, high-altitude smashes, the play that defined the Brazil match was a dramatic save, well off-court, by Christa Harmotto that led to a key point in the fourth set.

"Anytime one of our middle blockers makes a spectacular defensive play it's a boost," Berg said. "I think it shows our defensive desire now, our drive. We had a couple of balls that dropped in the first set and at one point we just said, "That's enough.'"

Berg and McCutcheon stressed the intricacy of teamwork required in volleyball, but it was hard to overlook Hooker's physical dominance. She couldn't have been more effective if she had used stilts and a tennis racket.

At 6-4, with tremendous leaping ability, Hooker's elevator stops on a different floor.

"There are certain plays where you just shake your head and have to smile," Harmotto said. "The kid is just incredible."

Asked whether she is tempted to constantly set up Hooker, Berg gave a glimpse into the responsibilities of a setter, and captain.

"You can't do that because teams will just start going to block her," Berg said. "My job is to put my hitters in the best situations possible. I try to watch the block and get everyone a 1-on-1. That's my goal, in my position.

"Destinee hits a fast set as well, so if they want to go to her they have to leave so early that I can see it."

Berg's international and national team career has led to this moment. She is the captain of the best team in the world.

"I'm honored, completely honored to be on a team with this many incredible players and to be named captain," she said. "It's something I've worked on for a long time, to be a leader and to make the players around me better. Honored -- that's the only word I've got for that."

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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