The Chinese, who have wisely borrowed strategy and technique from the Japanese, used all sorts of tricky maneuvers. It used to be that the middle man in the front row would set the ball high to one side or the other for a spiker. The quick but small Japanese invented various plays in which the setter would sometimes gently push the ball just above the net in the middle, where an alternate hitter was already at the top of his leap waiting to strike. The idea, which has been picked up by teams all over the world but rarely timed and executed in the Japanese manner, is to confuse the blockers and get a one-on-one hitting situation or maybe even one-on-none instead of the normal one-hitter trying to go over, around or through two blockers. The Chinese—tall, powerful and quick enough to use either style—worked the quickset plays very well, and the most important defenseman, the center blocker, didn't know where to turn or hide, like a man being attacked by three swooping falcons at once.
The Dayton and Fairfax warmups over, the tour moved on to Pasadena, where the competition figured to be stiffer. Pasadena is the training site for the U.S. women's team, coached by Israeli Arie Selinger. And brought in from California for the men's team was a group of college and ex-college stars thought to be the nucleus of America's 1980 Olympic team, the very same fellows who beat the Suntory team of Japan in September.
With possibly two exceptions, however, the U.S. women did not belong on the same floor with the Chinese. Patty Dowdell, 21, 6'1", a chemistry major at the University of Houston, spiked with power and accuracy, even from 10 feet behind the net, and Janet Baier, a six-foot Missourian, made some marvelous diving digs. But nobody else could compare with the Chinese, who were led by a textile worker from Hang-chow, Ch'en Chao-ti.
"They're good, period," said Selinger. "That's all there is to it. When they start moving, the only way you can beat them is to play quietly and put them to sleep."
He complained about the fact that 6'5" Flo Hyman, on a volleyball scholarship at the nearby University of Houston, is not allowed to compete with the national team.
"It's a lousy decision," said Selinger. "Dowdell was the only one who could put the ball down. With Hyman in there, too, we could compete against China. Maybe not win, but compete."
The U.S. men's hopes rested largely on the superb hitting of 6'5" Paul Sunderland, an ex-basketball player for Oregon and Loyola-Marymount, and the center blocking of John Zabriskie and Ted Dodd, both of whom had blocked beautifully against the strong Suntory team.
Dodd had not planned to participate. He did not want to take time off from his job as a waiter at a Malibu restaurant, and he was annoyed that during the training for the Suntory match the players had to pay all their own expenses except for a postmatch victory dinner. Coach Marv Dunphy persuaded him to travel to Texas by a method quite appropriate considering where the opposing team was from—he was shanghaied.
Dunphy, also head coach at Pepper-dine University, where Dodd was an All-America, got Dodd's parents and boss to approve his plan, then went with a girl friend and two players to the restaurant Friday night. Using a pair of riot handcuffs borrowed from a sheriffs deputy, they "arrested" Dodd and hauled him away to the decking outside his Malibu apartment, where his ankle was manacled to a railing for the night and a mattress provided for his comfort. Saturday morning he was taken to the airport in handcuffs like a criminal being extradited.
The first game went well, with Sunderland spiking strongly and Gerald Gregory and Mike Cram making some good digs and UCLA's Dave Olbright setting nicely. The U.S. won 15-7 and it looked fairly easy. But as the match wore on, China started blocking more and more of the U.S. spikes and America's vital center blocking fell apart. The U.S. lost the last two games, giving China 16 wins in 18 games on the tour's first week.