Culiacan, Mexico, September 25, 2003 - The two favorites for the XVIII NORCECA Men`s Continental Championship USA and Cuba opened their campaigns on Thursday with two easy victories in Culiacan, Mexico.
USA defeated Panama 3-0 (25-12, 25-11, 25-14) in the opening match of the tournament while Cuba overcame Puerto Rico 3-1 (25-17, 25-20, 15-25, 25-23) in the second match of the day before Mexico beat Guatemala 3-0 (25-20, 25-10, 25-18).
The Championship includes seven teams across two pools striving for the top two places, which offer qualifying spots for the 2003 World Cup in Japan in November.
USA, who with all their Olympic players is expected to dominate Pool B, completely dominated a Panama side, which hasn't competed at this level since 1989 in Puerto Rico. The sole player from that year, Francisco Detomas, was Panama's best scorer with six points.
Starting the match with a significant height advantage USA head coach Doug Beal used his entire squad with Ryan Millar leading the offensive duties with nine points and Clayton Stanley particularly destructive with his power serves. It was a match which provided a good workout according to Beal.
"Although we played good against Panama it was still a very long match," Beal said. "In spite of the performance the team still wants to play better and we will have to considering our strongest rivals will be Cuba, Puerto Rico and Mexico."
Panama coach José Alberto Remón was happy just to have the chance to play against quality opposition, "USA is a strong team with a lot of experience at this level, but we had an acceptable reception game as well and I think that we managed to have some good moments and we will be better for the experience".
Cuba, meanwhile, managed to concede a set against Puerto Rico despite their aggressive start to the match. The youthful Osmany Juantorena top scored for Cuba with 14 points, while Ariel Gil was outstanding on the block and serve. Oswarld Antonetti led Puerto Rico with 15 points.
"Puerto Rico will have gained a lot of confidence as their service game created a lot of difficulties for us," Cuba head coach Eliseo Ramos said. "We have to make some changes for the match against Canada but as the competition advances we must start to show our true quality".
"After second set, we relaxed a little and we committed too many errors, but we hope that our team improves its level accordingly throughout the Championship," Cuban captain Pavel Pimienta said.