USA Women Sweep Venezuela, Reach Pan Am Semifinals

Aug. 12, 2003

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic - The goal of the USA women's national volleyball training team heading into the Pan American Games was to win a medal.

It will have a chance to do just that later in the week after sweeping Venezuela in the quarterfinals at the Pabellon de Voleibol at Olympic Park Monday night.

Nicole Branagh (Orinda, Calif.) scored a match-high 16 points to lead four players in double figures in the 25-18, 25-20, 36-34 victory for the United States.

With the win, Team USA now advances to Thursday's semifinals against three-time defending Olympic gold medalist Cuba at 8 p.m. (Eastern Time).

'I think we're very fortunate to win that match in three sets,' said Team USA head coach Mike Hebert (University of Minnesota). 'I thought we controlled things very nicely in the first two sets. Venezuela seemed to catch a second wind in the third set and made some wonderful defensive plays. But we got some great serving right at the end and closed out the match, a great 3-0 win.'

Branagh posted 15 kills and one service ace in the victory, the third straight for the Americans in the tournament after losing their first match to Brazil in pool play on Aug. 3.

Team USA captain Wiz Bachman (Lakeville, Minn.) and 16-year-old opposite Cynthia Barboza (Long Beach, Calif.) scored 11 points apiece, while middle blocker Erin Aldrich (Dallas, Texas), a 2000 Olympian in track and field, added 10 points.

Bachman had eight kills and a match-high-tying three blocks. Barboza, in only her second career start with the senior national team, had 10 kills and one block, while Aldrich recorded six kills, three blocks and one ace.

Stanford outside hitter Ogonna Nnamani (Normal, Ill.), chipped in with nine points on seven kills and two blocks.

'When we first got here we were a fairly new team,' said Bachman. 'Each match that we have gone through has helped us gain more experience together and has helped us get our rhythm.

'We knew that this match against Venezuela was one obstacle that was in our way in order to reach the semifinals and the medal-qualifying match,' she added. 'I think we came out here and gave it our all as much as we could knowing that what we did in this match could help build confidence for the next two matches coming up.'

Team USA overcame five set points in the third set to close out the match and earn a date with the No. 1 team from Pool B, Cuba, which is currently ranked No. 5 in the world.

'Cuba is one of the top teams in the world,' admitted Hebert. 'We are going to have to serve much better against Cuba than we did tonight against Venezuela. To beat Cuba you must serve and block and defend. I think we have the capability to do this, but we're going to have to be at our very best.'

'Our team is very excited to take on the challenge and we're looking forward to playing Cuba,' added Bachman. 'Obviously they're going to get their kills, and their athleticism is going to show through, but I think our team is ready to challenge them and put up a strong fight.'

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

The American team that is here in Santo Domingo is a mixture of national team players, collegiate stars and one high school phenom.

'A good point to be made here is that the United States can send a second team to a major tournament like this, make the semifinals and play in at least one medal match,' said Hebert. 'I think that's a terrific statement for the development of USA Volleyball.'

courtesy of USA Volleyball

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