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Monday, August 23, 2004

The end of the Italian dream in Women Beach volley

A small sea of green and gold-clad supporters cheered Australia's Natalie Cook and Nicole Sanderson through to the semi-finals of the women's beach volleyball today. The Australian pair survived three sets to edge out Italy's Lucilla Perotta and Daniela Gattelli 2-1 (21-16, 14-21, 15-12) and qualify for Monday's semis. They were well supported by a colourful and vocal crowd at the Faliro Olympic beachball stadium.

Cook, a Sydney gold medallist with partner Kerri Pottharst, and Sanderson will meet Brazil's Adriana Behar and Shelda Bede in Monday's semi-final. Cook and Sanderson led easily in the first set, and despite some great digs by the Italians, held an eight-point lead at 17-9. The Italian pair came back to 15-19, but the Australians reached set point at 20-15 with a spike from Sanderson and then closed out at 21-16 when a scoring attempt from Gattelli went wide.

The 14th seeded Italians came back in the second set to take an early lead. With Cook and Sanderson still in the game at 12-10, Perotta and Gattelli scored five straight points to break away to 17-10. Gattelli sided out with a kill at 19-13 for match point. Sanderson attacked for one more sideout but then faulted her service to the net and the match went into a tie-breaker.

Australia led all through the third set, but Italy kept within range. At 12-11 Perotta missed an attack and the score moved to 13-11. Sanderson foiled a Perotta shot to take the Australians to 14-11. Gattelli then made a kill to pull closer at 14-12 and the Australians called a timeout. When the teams came back on court, Perotta faulted her last service for the final scoreline of 15-12.

Cook was gracious in victory. "They are a fighting team," she said of the Italian pair. "When you have your back to the wall at the Olympics in the final four, you are going to fight. When you've got something to lose, like we had in the second set, we should have come out and got on top of them. I must credit them. They are a great team."

Sanderson admitted she was struggling towards the end of the match, but was able to stay focused thanks to Cook.
"Natalie kept me in the game," she said. "I was pretty nervous but my partner supported me the whole way. She is amazing. She kept smiling, telling me what to do. It was an incredible play and Natalie got me in the end. I am still a bit shocked."

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