Team USA might have faced more difficulty before Wednesday night's volleyball match against Cuba than during it.
The Americans needed just 58 minutes in posting a 25-9, 25-13, 25-12 victory in their second Pool B game in the NORCECA Continental Championship at Ralston Arena.
“We did a real good job of putting the pressure on Cuba and focusing on our side of the net,” Team USA captain Kristin Hildebrand said. “We had a lot of people come off the bench and make a lot of contributions.”
The dominant performance came after a prematch mix-up left Team USA short on warm-up time.
“One of our focal points this year is embracing adversity, and we actually had a nice opportunity for that because of the mix-up in warm-up time,” head coach Karch Kiraly said. “Our team got a lot less warm-up than we expected to.
“But it was great the way the team reacted. We came right out and served tough.”
The Americans opened the first set by scoring the first six points, five on former Nebraska All-American Jordan Larson-Burbach's serves. Team USA scored six points during the match on aces, three by Larson-Burbach.
“One of the things we've been emphasizing all year is serving tough,” Hildebrand said. “We can always work on serving tougher, serving good balls consistently.”
Kelly Murphy led Team USA with 10 kills, while Lauren Gibbemeyer and Lauren Paolini each had eight. Gibbemeyer also had five of the Americans' 11 blocks, while Larson-Burbach had two to go along with a kill.
Team USA also got a solid performance from another former Husker, Kayla Banwarth, at libero.
Kiraly said he's been pleased with Banwarth's development this season.
“She, like many of our other USA athletes, has worked her tail off this year,” Kiraly said. “One of her biggest jobs is to learn and to take risks in what we call rehearsal in our training sessions and to stretch her limits.
“She's one of those that has really done a nice job of that and brought her game to an even stronger international level.”
One of the challenges that Banwarth and some of her teammates face is making adjustments now that Larson-Burbach, a 2012 Olympic silver medalist, has returned to the team.
“You can see not having played a tournament with Jordan until this one that sometimes there are hesitations and communication isn't quite as crisp as it could be as we get used to playing with someone of Jordan's caliber,” Kiraly said. “It's something that we can still get better at, for sure.”
The loss dropped the Cubans to 0-2 in Pool B play after they had dropped a five-set match to Mexico on Tuesday night. Cuban coach Juan Rodriguez dismissed any notion that fatigue might have been a factor in Wednesday's outcome.
“It had nothing to do with being tired,” he said.
Instead, Rodriguez said the inability to handle the Americans' serve made for a long night for his team.
“We knew we had to be ready for their serve,” Rodriguez said. “We even tried to change a couple of things around to handle the serve but unfortunately that wasn't the case.”
Cuba now will play St. Lucia at 4 p.m. Thursday for ninth place in the tournament. Meanwhile, Team USA, ranked second in the world, will prepare for a Friday semifinal match.
“We'll be practicing hard and fine-tuning the things we need to work on,” Hildebrand said.
Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico sweep pool play
The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico advanced unbeaten out of pool play with victories Wednesday at the NORCECA Continental Championship at Ralston Arena.
The Dominican Republic, ranked eighth in the world, improved to 2-0 in Pool A with a 25-13, 25-20, 25-13 win over Trinidad & Tobago. Bethania de La Cruz led the Dominicans with 10 kills, four aces and four blocks.
Puerto Rico outlasted Canada 19-25, 28-26, 25-23, 13-25, 15-8 to pick up its second win in Pool C play. Puerto Rico will play Mexico Thursday at 8 p.m., while the Dominican Republic advanced to Friday's semifinals.