SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic; August 13, 2003 – Thursday’s Pan American Games women's Volleyball semifinal pits three-time defending Olympic gold medalist Cuba against the U.S at the Pabellon de Voleibol at Olympic Park in a match which will determine which team will play for Pan American Gold on Saturday night.
The Cubans, who have cruised through their first three matches in Santo Domingo by dropping only one set, are currently ranked No. 5 in the world.
The women representing the United States are a mixture 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.
“We are chomping at the bit and salivating over this match,” said middle blocker Erin Aldrich. “I hope everyone takes the time they have and turns it into something great.”
“We know that we have to prepare very hard for Cuba. Physically and mentally we have to be ready. The Cuban’s style of play is better for us…jump high, hit hard. That’s our style of play as well. I think our block will work better against them.”
Cuba and the United States are the traditional powers in the NORCECA zone, which encompasses North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
Since the first NORCECA Championship in 1969 (the tournament is held every other year in odd-numbered years), Cuba has won 12 out of 17 times. The United States has won three championships (1981, 1983 and 2001) and has finished second to Cuba nine times. Mexico won the first two NORCECA crowns in 1969 and 1971.
Following a 3-0 loss to Brazil in the first match of the tournament, the United States has rebounded to win three straight matches: 3-2 over Puerto Rico, 3-1 over Peru and 3-0 over Venezuela in the tournament quarterfinals on Monday night.
Cuba has their top team in Santo Domingo and has looked impressive in defeating Venezuela (3-0), Mexico (3-0) and the Dominican Republic (3-1). But the Cubans have not played a match since winning Pool B on Aug. 8.