COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Now that the world's No. 2-ranked USA women's national volleyball team has won its second-straight NORCECA championship and clinched a berth in November's World Cup, it can concentrate on next week's "Lone Star Showdown" against Brazil in Texas.
"This tour with Brazil will be a very good World Cup preparation event for us," said Team USA head coach Toshi Yoshida. "Brazil, right now, is one of the top four teams in the world, for sure. I expect them to be very strong. They have all of their veterans back-very experienced players."
The tour begins on Tuesday, Sept. 30 at the University Recreation Center on the campus of Texas Christian University in Fort Worth at 8 p.m. (Central Time). On Wednesday, Oct. 1, the teams will square off at the Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center in Fort Worth at 7:30 p.m.
After a training day on Oct. 2, the tour resumes on Friday, Oct. 3 with a match at Kitty Magee Arena in Pioneer Hall on the campus of Texas Woman's University in Denton at 7:30 p.m. The series concludes on Saturday, Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. in the Burleson High School Arena in the city of Burleson, hometown of USA star libero and Texas A&M All-American Stacy Sykora.
"Any time you get a chance to go home is wonderful," said Sykora, a 2000 Olympian. "I think it's a great opportunity for me. Very few Olympic athletes get a chance to go home and play in their hometowns.
"I get to go back to the community (Burleson) that did so much for me growing up, and it's a really good time for me to see my family-and my dog, Pazzo, which means 'crazy' in Italian."
The third match of the tour was originally scheduled to take place Friday, Oct. 3, at the University of North Texas in Denton, but UNT withdrew from hosting the match late last week.
Last week, Team USA breezed through the field to capture its second-straight NORCECA championship and earn one of 12 berths for the first Olympic qualifier of the quadrennial, the 2003 World Cup in Japan (Nov. 1-15).
The women posted a perfect 4-0 mark at the tournament in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and defeated three-time defending Olympic gold medalist Cuba twice in the process to improve its season record to 20-9. By finishing as the top two teams, both the USA and Cuba qualified for the World Cup.
Team USA now shifts its focus from qualifying for the World Cup toward qualifying for the Olympics. The World Cup is a grueling 12-team, round-robin tournament, and teams that finish in the top three earn an automatic berth to the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.
To help his team prepare for the World Cup, Yoshida arranged a domestic tour with the top team in South America-and the team that prevented the United States from earning a bronze medal at the 2000 Olympics.
"I wanted to play a top team because, leading up to the World Cup, we have to maintain our performance level and our good focus," he added. "Brazil's style is similar to a lot of the top European teams, so it will be good for us to play against them. The matches will be very competitive, no doubt about it."