July 28, 2003 - The Cuba women’s team, winner of seven Pan American Games gold medals, come to Santo Domingo with hopes of advancing one step further than the past edition of the event four years ago in Winnipeg, where they finished runner-ups to Brazil.
Coach Luis Felipe Calderon is confident that his girls can win back the top place this time although he considers Brazil and USA as strong rivals.
After finishing third in Winnipeg, back in 1967, good for the bronze, the Cubans girls took seven straight golds in Cali, Mexico, San Juan, Caracas, Indianapolis, Havanna and Mar del Plata.
“The Brazilians are very good,” Calderon admitted. “They have a renewed team, but they have been together for years now and must be considered great rivals.”
He also praised the quality level of the USA team pointing out the fact that they will attend the Pan Am Games with a second team. “Anyway, they have 42 players in the international movement with very high projection," he said.
Cuba sent a split squad to the World Grand Prix this year led by star player Yumilka Ruiz, one of the best scorers during the World Championship in Germany, and Indira Mestre and setter Yanelis Santos.
Now they join forces with the rest of the side who stayed in Cuba including big server Nancy Carrillo along with Olympic gold medalists Marta Sanchez and Zoila Barros and the core of the team; Anniara Munoz, Liana Mesa, Marbelis Martinez, Yaima Ortiz, Katia Guevara and Asurina Alvarez.
“We went to the WGP with a group of young girls who made their debuts in the highest level,” said Calderon. “The result was not brilliant but it will be very important for the future.”
On the men’s side, Cuba is defending the crown and have the huge obstacle of the Brazil team as well who will have all its stars in place for this tournment.
Since 1971, the Cuban mens team has won the gold medal five times (’71, ’75, ’79, ’91 and ’99) and coach Eliseo Ramos does not rule out the chance of going back to Cuba with another.
A new face in the Cuban side is Raidel Contreras, an opposite atacker who starred in the National League, who might take some load and pressure off Tomas Aldazabal and Yosleider Cala.