The team took the court Saturday after learning of the stabbing death of Todd Bachman, father of former Olympian Elisabeth Bachman McCutcheon. He was attacked by a knife-wielding man at a popular tourist site in Beijing.
Her mother was seriously injured by the attacker, who jumped to his death from a balcony of the Drum Tower, an ancient landmark the Americans were visiting.
"It's hard to put it in words," a tearful U.S. player Logan Tom said after the match. "That's not something that's supposed to happen."
The killing cast a pall over the game, in which the Americans defeated Japan 3-1 (25-20, 20-25, 25-19, 25-21), in the first match of preliminary play at the Capital Indoor Stadium.
In contrast, the U.S. team was greeted enthusiastically by the Chinese fans because of coach Jenny Lang Ping, a sports icon in China known as the "Iron Hammer" during her playing days with the Chinese national team because of her powerful spikes.
Bachman McCutcheon is the wife of Hugh McCutcheon, coach of the U.S. men's indoor team, which is scheduled to open play today against Venezuela.
American player Stacy Sykora said the team was rousted from naps on Saturday afternoon and told of the attack.
"It was a reaction that I don't even have to describe. You have to understand what Liz Bachman is to USA Volleyball. She's probably the nicest person in the entire world, her and her family," Sykora said. "Her family is like our family because they traveled with us, she fought in the 2004 Olympics with us, she was my roommate in 2004."
After the game, the players huddled on the court for several moments. Some cried, others embraced. They waved to the fans who chanted "U-S-A!" during the game, before solemnly leaving the court.
"You can't just forget something like that," said Tom, who also played with Bachman McCutcheon in 2004 in Athens. "It is so horrible."
USA Volleyball representatives who were with the women's team on Saturday night referred all questions on Bachman's death to the U.S. Olympic Committee.
"You know, there are a lot of things we cannot control. The thing we can control is ourselves. Try to deal with it. Try to be strong," Lang Ping said. "Of course, it's a very, very difficult time and it's the first time in my life to deal with that situation before a game. I have to be patient and let players get over it and cheer for them and help them."
Lang Ping was an outside hitter for the Chinese national team, which won Olympic gold in 1984 in Los Angeles. She became so popular in China that she had her own postage stamp.
Against Japan, the U.S. easily took the first set. But Japan scored the final five points to win the second, capped by Megumi Kurihara's perfectly placed spike for set point.
Tied up in the third at 19, Lang Ping substituted Lindsey Berg for Danielle Scott-Arruda, giving the U.S. women the push they needed to win the third set.
Heather Bown's block sealed it. Another substitution in the fourth provided the spark for the win.
In other preliminary matches on Saturday, Cuba defeated Poland 3-1 (21-25, 25-17, 25-20, 25-17), top-ranked Brazil defeated Algeria in three sets (25-11, 25-11, 25-10), China defeated Venezuela 3-0 (25-12, 25-13, 25-18), Serbia defeated Kazakhstan 3-1 (25-21, 25-17, 23-25, 25-21) and Italy defeated Russia 3-1 (25-20, 17-25, 25-16, 25-23).
NOT A NICE DAY AT THE BEACH FOR U.S.
BEIJING --- Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser, the defending beach volleyball world champions and the overwhelming favorites to win the Olympic gold medal, lost their opening match on Saturday to a Latvian team that was seeded 23rd in the 24-team field.
The Americans, who had won 21 international matches in a row, must win their next two matches in pool play to be assured of a spot in the medal round.
Martins Plavins and Aleksandrs Samoilovs, former junior world champions who are the first Latvian team to qualify for the Olympics, won 21-19, 21-18.