COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado, September 9, 2003 – The long journey to Athens, Greece, for the 2004 Summer Olympics begins in September in the Dominican Republic for the USA women’s national Volleyball team when the NORCECA Zone Championship runs from Sept. 14-19 at the Pabellon de Voleibol at Olympic Park in Santo Domingo.
The NORCECA Championship is crucial because it serves as a qualifier to the first Olympic qualifier, the World Cup, which is scheduled for November 1-15 in Japan. The top three teams at the World Cup automatically qualify for the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.
“Our goal is to go to the NORCECA final so we can qualify for the World Cup,” said Team USA head coach Toshi Yoshida.
The top two teams at the NORCECA Championship earn a trip to Japan and a shot at qualifying for the Olympics a full nine months before the Games begin.
Setter Robyn Ah Mow-Santos, who gave birth to her first child earlier in the year and has not played since the World Grand Prix in July 2002, is on the final roster and figures to make her 2003 debut in Santo Domingo.
Team USA leaves Thursday for the Dominican Republic and will play its first match on Sunday, September 14 against Mexico.
The United States is in Pool B along with Costa Rica, Cuba and Mexico. Pool A consists of Canada, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago.
The top team in each pool automatically advances to the tournament semifinals, scheduled for September 18, while the fourth-placed team in each pool will square off for seventh place on September 17.
The teams ranked second and third at the conclusion of pool play will play cross-over matches on September 17 (2A vs. 3B, 2B vs. 3A), with the winners advancing to the semifinals and the losers doing battle for fifth place on September 18.
The winner of the Cuba-USA match is likely to determine who will win Pool B and earn a quick trip to the semifinals.
“The Cuba match is a huge match,” admits Yoshida. “Of course, we have a chance (to win). But it’s not going to be easy; it will be a tough, close match.”
Cuba and the United States are the traditional powers in the NORCECA zone, which encompasses North America, Central America and the Caribbean. More recently, the Dominican Republic, who just won the Pan American Games gold medal over Cuba, has inched closer towards cracking the top two.
Since the first women's 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.
This season, Cuba and the United States have squared off twice, with the world’s second-ranked Americans winning both times (3-1 on June 3 and 3-0 on July 21). Cuba, which has won the last three Olympic gold medals (1992, 1996 and 2000), is ranked No. 5 in the world.
“We’re trying to get the best preparation possible for this tournament,” says Yoshida. “Of course, everyone else in our zone has been preparing for this event as well. We need to be in good shape and play well with lots of spirit and energy. Otherwise, it will be tough, especially playing in Santo Domingo.”
Team USA: Keba Phipps, Danielle Scott, Tayyiba Haneef, Lindsey Berg, Stacy Sykora, Wiz Bachman, Heather Bown, Robyn Ah, Mow-Santos, Brittany Hochevar, Logan Tom, Sarah Noriega, Nancy Metcalf