USA Women Stun Puerto Rico in Five Sets

Aug. 6, 2003

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic - The USA women's national volleyball training team refused to give up and was rewarded with a thrilling come-from-behind 3-2 win over Puerto Rico in Pan American Games pool play at the Pabellon de Voleibol at Olympic Park Tuesday afternoon.

Team USA trailed in the match, two sets to one, and in the fourth set, 19-13, before storming back to win the crucial match, 24-26, 25-23, 17-25, 25-23, 16-14.

'This was a very, very important victory for us,' said Team USA head coach Mike Hebert (University of Minnesota). 'I thought the match was very evenly played, and the difference was at the end as we made a couple of big plays that were scored for points. Two blocks near the end of the fifth set, in my opinion, were the difference. It was a very good victory for us.'

Middle blocker Wiz Bachman (Lakeville, Minn.) led the United States with 19 points on 11 kills, a match-high seven blocks and one service ace. Ogonna Nnamani (Normal, Ill.), a two-time All-American in her first two years at Stanford, added 17 points on a team-high 14 kills and three blocks, including the match-winner.

Hebert called a timeout in the fourth set with the United States trailing, 19-13, and the team responded with a 7-1 run to even the set at 20-20.

'Mostly we called timeout to discuss our next sideout play and after that our blocking scheme,' he admitted. 'No big inspirational speeches...just trying to stay focused and business-like in the timeouts.'

Puerto Rico came out of the timeout and made a service error and a hitting error to make the score 19-15. Kills by 16-year-old Cynthia Barboza (Long Beach, Calif.) and Nicole Branagh made the score 19-17 and forced Puerto Rico to call a timeout. Aury Cruz ripped a kill to increase the lead to 20-17 for Puerto Rico before a Jennifer Joines (Milpitas, Calif.) kill and two Puerto Rico hitting errors evened the set at 20-all.

From there Bachman took over, posting two kills and one block as the USA escaped with a 25-23 win and a ton of momentum.

'It was definitely a team effort out there today,' said Bachman, the team captain for the United States. 'Everyone did a good job, especially the last two sets, working together. We did a good job focusing on our passing and defense, getting the ball to (setter) Lizzy (Fitzgerald), and she did a good job distributing to the hitters. That's all you can ask for...working together as a team in order to get the victory in the end.'

Branagh (Orinda, Calif.) added 11 points in the win on nine kills, one block and one ace as Team USA improved to 1-1 in pool play to forge a four-way tie for the lead in Pool A along with Brazil, Puerto Rico and Peru.

'I think we came here (Sunday) and we had never played together as a team,' said Hebert. 'A lot of these players had played international matches before, but we have not been together with this group on the court.'

That inexperience showed in the team's first match on Sunday when it fell to Brazil in three sets. On Tuesday, a different team seemed to take to court, especially in the latter sets.

'I think we fought a lot harder (than Sunday),' explained Fitzgerald (New Orleans, La.), who scored four points. 'We played with more intensity. We figured some things out chemistry-wise, blocking-wise and defensively. When those things were worked out we were able to focus on just working hard, and I think the team did a good job of that.'

'They had to find out they could win in a close match,' revealed Hebert. 'That happened, and now I think the confidence issue is solved. It was interesting that we had, in the end, Ogonna and Cynthia, two very young players, on the court. It just demonstrated the poise of some real veteran-type players.'

Karina Ocasio scored a match-high 25 points on 22 kills, two aces and one block for Puerto Rico in the loss. Aury Cruz, an All-American from the University of Florida, added 19 points on 11 kills, five aces and three blocks.

Competition in Pool A concludes on Thursday, Aug. 7 as the United States takes on Peru at Noon. (Eastern Time). Peru also needed five sets to upset previously unbeaten Brazil in Tuesday's opening match.

courtesy of USA Volleyball

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