Ciudad Juarez, Mexico – In a gritty final match the U.S. women ended a nine year gold medal drought at the XI Pan Am Cup upsetting favorite Brazil in a tie-breaker set at the Colegio de Bachilleres de Juárez July 20.
Brazil got out to a fast start winning the first two sets 28-30 and 18-25, and at one point during the second set U.S. Head Coach Sunahara Reed turned silently to one of his assistants on the bench and raised his eyebrows as if saying “what can we do to stop them?”
The U.S. front line, anchored by Jennifer Tamas with five blocks, faced repeated attacks by Brazil’s high scorers Joyce Silva, who finished the night with 25 points and Priscilla Daroit with 23.
The U.S. made a few strategic changes going into the third set and things just began to click.
“Our passing held us together,” Reed said. “We had to grind out every point.”
Nicole Fawcett had played in Brazil and was familiar their power style of play and quick court sense.
“I had a feel for how they played and just adjusted,” Fawcett said.
In the decisive third set the U.S. was able to garner an 11-6 lead, one of the biggest leads of the night, on a Kristin Richards spike.
Brazil crept up and closed the gap at 22-19 on a Silva spike, but the U.S. was able to fend off the late Brazil surge with Richards putting the icing on the game with a spike from center net down the middle of the Brazil court putting the U.S. in the win column with a 25-22 final score.
Brazil got on the scoreboard first in the fourth set which was quickly equalized by a Fawcett strike. The U.S. maintained the lead until Brazil evened the score at 11 on a Silva attack that trickled across the top of the net dropping unattended to the U.S. side. Brazil mustered a two point lead at 15-17. The U.S. took a two point lead at 21-19 on a controversial line call that resulted in the animated Brazilian coach Claudio Pinheiro getting a yellow card for his vocal opposition to the line judge’s call.
This was what the U.S. needed to suck the momentum from Brazil. Never losing the lead the U.S. won 25-21 forcing the 15 point tie-breaker fifth set.
Brazil’s Claudia Silva served first but Fawcett quickly put the U.S. on the scoreboard followed by a Richards strike that wound up being one of the most pivotal of her 35 points on the night. The set evolved into a shooting match between Richards and Silva with an exchange of ties and leads until the U.S. put its 12th point on the board taking a one point lead. Brazil remained at 11 points as Richards, who went on to win tournament MVP, finished the night with two strong hits giving the U.S. the upset and an automatic qualification to the FIVB World Grand Prix.
The U.S. entered the final match with a 4-1 record in pool play with their sole loss coming from Cuba 1-3, who went on to win the Bronze Medal over the Dominican Republic. Brazil eased through pool play with a 5-0 record and beat the Dominican Republic 3-1, which included only one set loss in the semi-final match against Cuba.
“I’m happy for this team and how we came together after only a few practices,” Richards said.
Richards added that the age and international experience disparity of the team, ranging from 22-year-old Carli Lloyd to 35-year-old Captain Stacy Sykora, actually became an asset.
“A victory is always great and this is the first time in 12 years we have a victory against Brazil,” said Sykora. “Every four years when I finished my season, I lost against a Brazilian team.”
According to Juarez Mayor Hector Marguia NORCECA has committed to hold the event for the third year in a row in Juarez in 2013.
In a city struggling to regain a positive identity as a safe place to visit and hold international sporting events, Marguia said his city is ready to welcome NORCECA play again.
“This is great for Ciudad Juarez and how we want to be known as an international sports city.”
Originally published in September/October 2012