Serbian women chase gold, first women's volleyball medal
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Tijana Boskovic covered her face and cried for joy in the aftermath of her team's thrilling semifinal upset of the top-ranked Americans, overcome by the improbable accomplishment for a country that has never been among the world volleyball powers.
Serbia has already made history for women's volleyball back home, and now these women will bring the program's first medal back from Brazil.
They want it to be gold. They have gotten this far, why not shoot for the tip-top step of the podium?
Especially with both two-time defending champion Brazil and the No. 1 Americans out of the mix. Serbia will face China, which played in the same preliminary pool and beat the Netherlands in a four-set semifinal.
China coach Jenny Lang Ping could become the first person to win gold as a player and a coach.
''We will give it our best but for sure after this semifinal you can see that our group was much harder,'' Serbia middle blocker Milena Rasic said. ''Brazil is out, Russia is out, USA's out. It's really an amazing feeling.''
Now, just one more win. The Serbians already had beaten the U.S. at last year's World Cup in Japan that helped force the Americans to play a second-chance qualifier at Lincoln, Nebraska, in January to earn a berth to Rio de Janeiro.
This one was so much sweeter - at the Olympics in a match nobody figured they would win.
''What can I say after this game?'' Serbia coach Zoran Terzic said. ''I don't have words, because this is a historical moment for Serbian volleyball, for everybody in Serbia for the first Olympic medal in our history. We are very happy, very proud, especially we win against maybe the best team in the world at this moment. It was an amazing game for us. What can I say? Very happy, very proud, very satisfied.''
The men's team didn't reach the Rio Games, so the women are leaving their imprint on Brazil and the world stage. At long last.
And the women weren't sure how they would secure their trip here until that impressive showing at World Cup a year ago.
''Now, it's final, it's beginning now,'' Tijana Malesevic said. ''We have one day to rest, and to prepare and to celebrate a little bit because we did a great job. But for sure we will not stop on this one, we're going to make it further.''
For the inexperienced China team, each step through the tournament has helped the players gain confidence and comfort playing at the Olympic level. Beating the Brazilians at home sure helped and meant so much.
''The mindset is the most important thing,'' Ding Xia said. ''The skills are not important anymore at this point in the tournament because the matches are so crucial. After we defeated Brazil now everybody is in a mindset of just doing our best. Both the confidence and morale is up and that makes our skills better.''
Serbia doesn't want to get this close and go home without the top prize.
''I'm so happy and I'm so satisfied, so proud of my team,'' Serbia captain Maja Ognjenovic said. ''I don't know what to say. Right now I'm full of emotions. Really this is historic success for women's Serbian volleyball.''