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USA win thriller with Cuba

Foluke Akinradewo and Logan Tom contributed to the victory

Matsumoto, Japan, November 3, 2010 – The United States had to dig deep to maintain their unbeaten record in Pool C at the FIVB Women's Volleyball World Championship on Wednesday, winning a thriller with Cuba 3-1 (30-28, 25-23, 22-25, 25-23). The USA finished with a 5-0 record, dropping only two sets, while the improving Cubans – who had lost their first match to Croatia 3-0 – ended the first round 2-3.

Destinee Hooker top-scored for the group-leading USA, her 20 points eclipsing the double-digit contributions of three team-mates: Logan Tom with 19, Jordan Larson 16 and Foluke Akinradewo 10 including four blocks. For third-placed Cuba, Kenia Carcaces had a match-high 23 points and Yoana Palacios 17.

FIVB Women's World Championship Japan 2010 official page

There was little between the sides from the start, although the USA took a slight lead and Akinradewo performed successive blocks on Leanny Castañeda and Yusidey Silie to make it 8-6 at the First Technical Timeout (FTT). But a great block by Rosanna Giel on the big-hitting Hooker restored parity at 8-8. Among the awesome hitters on show, it was the imposing Carcaces who came to the fore with several monstrous hits that helped Cuba to a three-point cushion at 17-14.

Hooker led the American fightback and the teams could not be separated from 20-20 to 28-28, when Palacios levelled matters. However, Palacios's day suddenly took a turn for the worse: first she sent a big serve long to give the USA their fifth set point, then she failed to deal with a serve by Hooker, putting Hugh McCutcheon's side one set up.

The Americans also claimed the initiative in the second set after three Cuban errors, yet the introduction of Yanelis Santos for Ana Lidia Cleger steadied Juan Carlos Gala's team. Even so, after Cuba had pulled to within a point at 9-8, their opponents sped four ahead on the heavy hitting of Larson.

Back came Cuba, with a great Castañeda block on Hooker bringing them a point short at 15-14, though they still could not get past the USA, who moved away again following more good work by Larson. Carcaces spearheaded the next Cuban revival, back to 22-21, before a good spike by Heather Bown extended the American advantage to 23-21. Palacios then made another crucial service reception error for set point and Tom put her side 2-0 up with a spike.

Sloppy Cuban play allowed the USA to open up a gap early in the third set, forcing coach Gala to call a timeout. But with the Americans blocking and defending superbly, Cuba were having trouble landing spikes. Hooker and Akinradewo combined for two huge blocks on Carcaces as their side went 12-4 in front. Cuba reduced the deficit, with Palacios landing a rare thump, yet a big hit by Bown sent the USA five points clear at the Second Technical Timeout (STT).

Then, for some reason, the Americans went off the boil. Successive errors by Tom, Bown and Tom again, followed by a big crack from Cleger, took the Cubans within a point of levelling. They did this at 17-17, when Silie conjured a great block on Tom, and immediately were in the ascendant as Silie ended a long rally with a bomb that Stacy Sykora could not handle. Carcaces produced two super spikes and an even better unreturnable serve to keep the pressure on, and when a netted Larson spike gave up four set points. Hooker plonked a serve into the net to rubber-stamp Cuba's set.

The Cubans marched ahead in the fourth set behind a good spell of Palacios serving, looking a team refreshed. Carcaces came up with a thunderbolt from heaven while Silie made a fabulous block on Larson as Cuba established an 8-3 advantage at the FTT. After a dazzling service ace by Carcaces put the Caribbean outfit 11-6 up, USA coach McCutcheon called a timeout. Substitute Ogonna Nnamani stopped a four-point Cuban run with a big spike and then four Cuban errors enabled the Americans to turn things around – and lead by a point at the STT.

What became a six-point USA streak was eventually ended by a bullet from Palacios, prompting the sides to trade shots: Hooker, Santos, Carcaces and Larson. A wide shot by Carcaces and another crucial service reception error by Palacios had the Americans back in the driving seat at 21-19. Cuba equalised at 23 after the USA failed to handle a Castañeda serve, yet then Tom fired a shot through the Cuban defence to earn match point. When the unfortunate Palacios sent her cross-court shot wide, it was all over.

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