USA Women Fall To Cuba In Pan Am Semifinals

Aug. 15, 2003

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic - Cuba blazed into the women's volleyball gold medal match at the Pan American Games with a 3-0 sweep of the USA women's national volleyball training team at the Pabellon de Voleibol at Olympic Park Thursday night.

Liana Mesa scored a match-high 14 points to lead a balanced attack as Cuba posted a 25-19, 25-19, 25-21 victory to advance to Saturday night's championship match against the Dominican Republic, a 3-2 winner over Brazil in Thursday night's second semifinal.

Cuba, the three-time defending Olympic gold medalists playing with its top team in Santo Domingo, proved to be too quick and powerful for the USA's second team, a squad comprised of national team players, collegiate All-Americans and one high school star.

The top USA women's national team, which is currently ranked No. 2 in the world, was competing at the FIVB World Grand Prix in Italy at the same time as the start of the volleyball competition at the Pan American Games.

The conflict in schedules thus allowed the training team an opportunity to gain some much needed experience against international competition.

Ogonna Nnamani (Normal, Ill.), a two-time All-American at Stanford University, scored a team-high 13 points on 10 kills and three blocks to lead the United States, which will now play in the bronze medal match Saturday night at 6 p.m. against Brazil, the only other team to defeat the Americans at this tournament.

The United States played every set close throughout, but seemed out of rhythm and off-balance for most of the night.

'The primary reason for that is the Cuban team,' said Team USA head coach Mike Hebert (University of Minnesota). 'Their organization and the speed of their attack is better than we have seen all tournament. Their setters were outstanding; their location all night was excellent. They got their quick hitters in a rhythm. They had us just a little bit off-balance.'

Nicole Branagh (Orinda, Calif.) registered 11 points on 11 kills for Team USA, which saw its three-match winning streak snapped.

'The one thing I can say is I think we did some very big things very well,' Hebert added. 'It was the small things we struggled with, and that was a little bit unexpected. Overall the effort level was there; we just couldn't execute on some things that we had been doing pretty well (earlier in the tournament).

'I thought our block did a good job of fronting a lot of their attack patterns, and we would force them into a tip, or an off-speed shot, but then we didn't cover the off-speed shot. Or we would get a dig, but then have some confusion on who was going to take the second contact. Those were frustrating errors.'

Middle blocker Wiz Bachman (Lakeville, Minn.) added six points on three kills, two blocks and one ace, while Erin Aldrich (Dallas, Texas) and 16-year-old Cynthia Barboza (Long Beach, Calif.) chipped in with five points apiece in the loss.

In the first set the teams were tied at 17-all before the Cubans went on an 8-2 run to close out the set with a 25-19 win.

'I think we started making a lot of unforced errors; giving up points when we should have been at least been keeping the ball away,' explained Bachman. 'And I think that distracted us. At times we did a very good job, but at critical moments we couldn't seem to put the ball away when it really mattered most.'

Zoila Barros added nine points and Yumilka Ruiz and Marta Sanchez each chipped in with eight points for the fifth-ranked Cubans, who remain the only undefeated team in the competition at 4-0.

'They stay steady the whole time; the whole game they're steady,' said USA libero Sarah Drury (Louisville, Ky.) in describing Cuba. 'They make a mistake, they come back, they fix it. Both teams played with a lot of energy. They just had a little bit more than we did.'

courtesy of USA Volleyball

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