The United States had to dig deep to maintain their unbeaten record in Group C at the World Championship in Matsumoto 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 Cuba team – who lost their first match to Croatia 3-0 – ended the first round 2-3.
Destinee Hooker topped four American teammates who finished with double digits in the scores while compiling 20 points.
Logan Tom had 19, Jordan Larson added 16 and Foluke Akinradewo contributed 10 including four blocks.}
Cuban Kenia Carcaces had a match-high 23 points and Yoana Palacios added 17 for the defeated side.
After the USA took a slight early lead, there was very little to choose between the two teams in the early stages. Foluke Akinradewo came up with successive blocks on Leanny Castaneda and Yusidey Silie as the Americans took an 8-6 lead at the first technical timeout, but a great block by Rosanna Giel on the big-hitting Destinee Hooker leveled the scores at 8-8. But this was a game between two teams with awesome hitters and it was the imposing figure of Kenia Carcaces who came to the fore with several monstrous hits that helped Cuba open up a three-point lead at 17-14.
Hooker led the way back for the USA and the teams couldn't be separated from 20-20 to 28-28 when Yoana Palacios levelled the scores. But then Palacios's day took a turn for the worse. First she sent a big serve long to give the Americans their fifth setpoint and then she failed to deal with a serve by Hooker, putting the USA one set up.
The Americans took an early lead in the second set after three Cuban errors, but the introduction of Yanelis Santos for Ana Lidia Cleger helped steady the Cuban team. But after Cuba pulled to within a point at 9-8, the Americans moved into a four-point lead behind the heavy hitting of Jordan Larson.
Back came Cuba, with a great block by Castaneda on Hooker putting the Cubans within a point again at 15-14, but they still couldn't get past the USA, who pulled away again on the back of more good work by Larson. Carcaces brought Cuba back to within a point again at 22-21, but a good spike by Heather Bown gave the Americans the lead at 23-21. Palacios then made another crucial service reception error for setpoint and Logan Tom put the Americans 2-0 up with a spike.
Sloppy Cuban play allowed the USA to open up a gap early in the third set and forced coach Juan Gala Rodriguez to call a timeout. But with the Americans blocking and defending superbly, Cuba were also having trouble landing spikes. Hooker and Akinradewo combined for two huge blocks on Carcaces as the Americans moved out to 12-4.
Cuba clawed back some of that, with Palacios landing a rare thump, but a big hit by Bown saw the Americans five points clear at the second TTO. But 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 put the Cubans within a point of levelling.
They did this at 17-17 when Silie came up with a great block on Tom and Cuba were in front after Silie ended a long rally with a bomb that Stacy Sykora couldn't handle. Carcaces came up with two super spikes and an even better unreturnable serve to keep the pressure on the USA, and a netted spike by Larson handed them four setpoints. Hooker then plonked a serve into the net and Cuba were back in the match.
Cuba opened up an early lead in the fourth set behind a good spell of serving from Palacios and they looked like a team refreshed. Carcaces came up with a thunderbolt from heaven while Silie made a fabulous block on Larson as the Cubans rushed into an 8-3 lead at the first TTO. After a dazzling service ace by Carcaces put Cuba 11-6 up, USA coach Hugh McCutcheon called a timeout.
Substitute Oganna Nnamani stopped a four-point Cuban run with a big spike and then four Cuban errors allowed the USA to turn things around and lead by a point at the second TTO. The Americans' six-point run was ended with a bullet from Palacios and then the two sides started trading shots: Hooker, Santos, Carcaces, Larson. A wide shot by Carcaces and another crucial service reception error by Palacios put the Americans back in the driving seat at 21-19. The Cubans levelled at 23 after the USA failed to handle a serve by Castaneda, but. Tom then fired a shot through the Cuban defense to bring up matchpoint. The unfortunate Palacios then sent a crosscourt shot wide and it was all over.
Source: Web FIVB