April 15, 2004 - The USA women’s national volleyball team departs on Saturday, April 17, for a long trip to Nizhniy Tagil, Russia, and the Yeltsin Cup tournament which runs between April 20-25.
For Team USA, which earned a bronze medal at the 2003 World Cup to qualify for the 2004 Olympic Games, the tournament will be the first competition of a busy 2004 season.
It will also serve as a crucial evaluation tool for fourth-year head coach Toshi Yoshida, who must cut "two or three" players from the roster when the team returns at the end of April.
"It is very important for the athletes to play well to stay alive," admits Yoshida. "This tournament will allow me to evaluate the players on a different level and will help me make my decisions."
The eight-team field is broken into two pools. The United States, currently ranked No. 2 in the world, will be a member of "Pool B," and play a round-robin schedule in Nizhniy Tagil against No. 24 Croatia, No. 39 Azerbaijan and three-time defending Olympic gold medalist Cuba, ranked No. 6 in the world to start the season. "Pool A" consists of No. 5 Russia, No. 12 Turkey, No. 14 Dominican Republic and No. 16 Thailand. The teams in Pool A will play in Ekaterinburg.
The tournament begins for the United States on Tuesday, April 20 with a match against Croatia. On Wednesday, April 21 the Americans face Azerbaijan in a rematch of last year’s Yeltsin Cup bronze-medal match, won by Azerbaijan in five sets. Team USA then wraps up pool play against long-time NORCECA rival Cuba on Thursday, April 22.
Following a travel day on Friday, April 23, the top two teams in each pool advance to the semifinal round in Ekaterinburg on Saturday, April 24, with the championship round scheduled for Sunday, April 25.
"Our goal is to finish in the top two of our pool so we can advance to the semifinals," said Yoshida. "I want to play Russia. I want to see what our players can do against a team like Russia, which is working so hard to get qualified for the Olympics."