Watch one women's volleyball game, Terry Liskevych says, and you will come back again.
"Volleyball is a curse and a blessing," said Liskevych, head coach of the U.S. women's national team. "We all played at a young age, on the beach or at a picnic, and to most people that's what volleyball is. But very few are familiar with volleyball at this level. The finesse, the power, the speed are incredible."
Tonight at 7:30, Liskevych's team will be on display at the Towson Center as the United States meets China in the opening match of a four-event series. China won the silver medal and the United States earned the bronze at the 1990 women's world championships in Beijing.
"Clearly, the Soviet Union [1990 world champion] is the No. 1 team in the world," Liskevych said. "China, the United States and Cuba are the other top teams. But if you go 1 through 4, any of those teams can beat the other."
The United States is in the midst of rebuilding after finishing seventh at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. Caren Kemner, the 1990 team's Most Valuable Player, will be making her 1991 debut on this tour after being sidelined by calf surgery in December.
The Chinese, who haven't visited the United States since 1987, are led by middle blockers Wu Dan and Li Yueming, outside hitter Xu Xin and veteran setter Su Huijuan.
"They have an experienced team, and they play a tough all-around game," said Tammy Liley, a veteran on the U.S. team. "Some teams do well from the back, and some teams do well from the front. But the Chinese have a good blend."
Liley said the current tour is important and will help the U.S. establish itself in a pivotal season.
"It's a good thing to see where we're at and where we need to get to," she said. "This isn't just some exhibition. We play to win every night. It's important to let them know we are a contending team and that they can't walk by us."
Liskevych said a successful tour against the Chinese would help the team's training for the 1992 Olympic qualification tournament. Only one team from the North Central Caribbean zone, which includes the United States and Cuba, will advance from an August trial to the final eight in Barcelona, Spain.
"It's one of the best-kept secrets in the Olympics that there are 12 men's volleyball teams in the finals and only eight women's," Liskevych said. "But it's tough to get team sports in the Olympics. We just have to do our best and qualify."
Facts and figures
What: United States vs. China in opening match of four-event volleyball series.
Where: Towson Center.
When: 7:30 tonight.
Tickets: $8 reserved, $5 general admission; available at Towson Center box office.