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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Cuba simply too much for U.S. women

By Dennis Berg
Special to The Advertiser

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Kim Willoughby

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Punahou graduate Lindsey Berg is one of four players with Hawai'i ties on the U.S. women's volleyball team. Her father, Dennis, is contributing to The Advertiser's coverage from Beijing.

BEIJING The story line for yesterday's match was Cuba's superior athleticism which normally equals superior volleyball play. That isn't always the case, though. In the past five years Team USA has been able to compete equally with the Cubans and, on many occasions, beat them or force them to beat themselves. Not this time.

The only bright light for the USA came early and, unfortunately, faded quickly. Kim Willoughby opened up Game 1 with four tough serves, forcing Cuba into passing and hitting errors and an early timeout, trailing 5-1. After that it was all Cuba; either they were serving extremely tough or our poor passing made it look that way. I believe it was a combo of both. When USA was able to pass, Cuba had our middle attack from the Japan match scouted perfectly and executed a block or a touch on every one.

After two timeouts and down about 16-8, Lindsey Berg and Ogonna Nnamani came in with the double sub hoping to provide a spark to the starters of Robyn Ah Mow-Santos, Logan Tom, Willoughby, Tayyiba Haneef-Parker, Heather Bown and Danielle Scott-Aruda. Unfortunately, without consistent passing, that strategy along with anything else was unsuccessful. It would have been nice to call Game 1 a mulligan and start over.

Game 2 looked better and was the only one played with any reasonable level of consistency. USA played Cuba evenly and had a serve for the game at 24-23. Cuba responded with one of its thundering spikes and went on to score two more quick points for the victory.

In Game 1, the USA beat itself. In this game, it was the inability to block or dig Cuba's middle attack or outsides. The positive play of Kim Glass, who replaced Willoughby, was about the only significant highlight.

Team USA built a 6-2 lead in Game 3, but it ended much like Game 1. Cuba went back to its effective blocking schemes and forced bad passes with tough serving. Tom was replaced by Willoughby early but the USA never got closer.

With Cuba dominating in all statistical categories other than substitutions and time-outs, this could have been compared to USA men's basketball dominating China. Maybe it was the after-effects of two days earlier, from dealing with the Japan match and, more significantly, the tragedy of a family so close to so many of the players. Or maybe Cuba was just that much better, forcing the USA into poor execution time after time. We may know that answer as the tourney progresses.

Family and friends of the players were able to deal with the loss at the Hometown Hopefuls Hospitality Center hosted by Bank of America. Meals, beverages, lounge areas for watching other Olympic events, computer access, extra tickets, etc., are available at no charge. I anticipate it not being quite so comfortable for the players as they regroup for their next match with Venezuela.