It was another day at the office for the U.S. men's volleyball team. Efficient most of the time, overpowering when necessary, the squad wore down a good Czechoslovakian team today, winning, 15-10, 15-7, 15-10.
Nothing special. This is the best volleyball team in the world, a team that almost always wins. Today's victory put the U.S. team into Friday night's Goodwill Games semifinals. There, or in the final, it will play the Soviet Union. A big match, but not an unusual one for this team.
"We're friends with all those guys," said Pat Powers, referring to the Soviets. "Usually, we go out and party with them after we play. In fact, usually it's mandatory."
In 1984, just before the Soviets' Olympic boycott was announced, the U.S. team swept a four-game series from the Soviets in a small town called Kharkov. In 1985, the teams met eight times and the U.S. team won seven. The United States won the 1984 Olympics and then won the 1985 World Cup with a 15-12 fifth-game victory over the Soviets.
"But we still have a lot to prove," said Dusty Dvorak, who has played on the U.S. team since 1980. "For years and years, the Soviets were the power in volleyball. We've won one Olympics and one World Cup. We've never won the world championships. That's our goal. This tournament is a steppingstone."
What makes this team so unusual is its continuity. Six of the current players were on the Olympic team. And because the entire team is from California, it has not been difficult for the members to establish a base for training -- San Diego -- and, with corporate help, remain in the game almost full time.
"I think if we had been older as a group, more guys might have quit after '84," said Dvorak, the oldest starter at 28. "But we were all still in our early and mid-20s. Things have changed now so that we can make a living; not get rich by any means, but at least make a living."
That is why, while so many U.S. teams have struggled here and have left talking about rebuilding to be ready by '88, this team is ready now and confident about its chances in Seoul.
"We want to stay together until then," Powers said. "Last year, we were all fighting burnout. We were out of San Diego for 183 days. That's just too much. By the time we got to the World Cup, it was tough to play, but we got through it. When it was over, I was ready to quit. I had had enough."
But Powers, Dvorak, captain Karch Kiraly, Steve Timmons, Steve Salmons and Dave Saunders -- the '84 alumni -- came back. One reason was the world championships, another was a chance for another Olympic gold medal, and another was Coach Marv Dunphy.
"Marv changed our scheduling this year," Dvorak said. "That was important. I've really had the sense that a lot of guys are viewing the game as a job now, and that's not good. Marv cut way back on our travel. He knows that it's important that we don't play a lot of games in high school arenas anymore.
"We need to play good teams in good arenas. When we play now, the games have to mean something. Marv's worked hard to do that."
This is a team that has the experience and familiarity that is almost never found on U.S. national teams. Dvorak, Powers, Kiraly and Salmons first played together in 1978 as part of the U.S. junior team. Three of the starters went to Southern California, three went to UCLA.
Their motto: Three Bruins plus three Trojans equals three-to-nothing. "Playing the Russians," said Kiraly, "is like playing USC."
In San Diego, they train every morning for three to four hours and then go to jobs in the afternoon. In the evening, they either play or give clinics or speeches. Powers is a banker. Dvorak has sold real estate. Kiraly wants to be a doctor.
None of them work full-time, though, and if they do win the world championships in France in October (the United States has never finished higher than sixth), the temptation to quit will be there for the veterans. "If we win that, we'll have the triple crown -- Olympics, World Cup, world championships," Powers said. "The Soviets are the only ones who have done it. I think some of us might think of not going on. But in the back of our minds, we're all thinking about Seoul."
So are the team's corporate sponsors, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Yugo (a Yugoslavian car sold in the United States). Their decision to invest in volleyball is a major reason the team has been able to stay together and train together. Although the players admit to restlessness at times, most of them seem to want to stick it out.
"After we won in '84, a lot more people got interested in volleyball, and that was great," Dvorak said. "If we had all retired, then this team wouldn't be that good right now, and a lot of what was accomplished would be wiped out. But if we keep going and keep winning, maybe we can really establish something by the time we get to Seoul."
They already have established something. Not just by winning, but by their relationship with the Soviet team. There is definitely a feeling of friendship between the Soviet and U.S. volleyball teams. On the last night of their four-game series in Kharkov, the Soviets announced their boycott of the Los Angeles Games and that night, after the U.S. team had won again, the two teams went out to commiserate together.
"Every time we beat them the Soviets , it re-establishes that we're the best right now," Dvorak said. "You can't talk dominance because they've been the best for so long. But every win helps."
U.S. figure skater Debi Thomas and Vladimir Kotin made a small piece of history tonight when they performed together during the figure skating exhibition. Thomas and Kotin became the first U.S.-Soviet pair to work a routine together in any kind of figure skating performance. Other U.S.-Soviet pairs also performed tonight.
The act came about when Thomas noticed Kotin rehearsing a routine set to music by Michael Jackson. She told him she did a routine to music by Janet Jackson and wondered if he would someday like to put their acts together. After the first exhibition here Tuesday, a Soviet official asked Thomas if she still was interested in skating with Kotin. She said she was, the two rehearsed this morning and did a two-minute routine tonight to Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" that brought about the largest ovation to date at the games.
In other competition, Caroline Kuhlman defeated fellow American Beverley Bowes, 6-4, 7-5, in the women's singles tennis final and the Soviet Union's Andrei Chesnokov won the men's singles tennis title, defeating Marian Vajda of Czechoslovakia, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.