SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic, August 14, 2003 – Cuba blazed its way 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 on Thursday.
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’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.
“Their organization and the speed of their attack is better than we have seen all tournament," said Team USA head coach Mike Hebert. "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 registered 11 points on 11 kills for Team USA, which saw its three-match winning streak snapped.
“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.”
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.
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 stayed steady the whole time; the whole game they’re steady,” said USA libero Sarah Drury 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.”