Puerto Rico into semis surviving second five-set thriller in a row

DURANGO, Mexico, May 23, 2019.- Puerto Rico moved directly into the U18 Girls’ Pan American Cup surviving their second five-set thriller in a row beating Cuba 3-2 (20-25, 25-20, 25-27, 25-21, 15-9) at Auditorio del Pueblo of Durango, Mexico.

Puerto Rico (3-0) route into semifinals of the event grants two tickets to the FIVB World Championship winning pool B to Cuba (2-1) with a stunning strategy and still missing two key players, captain Victoria Sofia and setter Mariana Trujillo. Cuba will play the quarterfinals against Chile.

The neck to neck battle was a party of sets that deserved to reach the overtime. Set one started off with long rallies and with Cuba dominating the first set with a comfortable five point lead. Puerto Rico bounced back from a three point deficit (13-16) as Cuba led up to the second technical time-out.

The spectacular display from Valeria Otero on Puerto Rico’s side and that of Cubans Thainalien Castillo along with Claudia Tarin kept the scores tied on numerous occasions from set three forward. Puerto Rico’s character in set five kept them on top jumping to a four point lead (10-6) and leaving Cuba without possibility to recover, even using captain Thalia Moreno who missed the previous matches.

Puerto Rico won despite Cuba’s 52-35 margin in attacks as well as 13-11 in blocks; the winners led with 7-5 aces and scored on a sizeable 57 Cuban errors. Puerto Rico allowed 32 points on errors.

Valeria Otero, the only Puerto Rican player with double-digits, scored a match-high of 19 points on 17 kills and 2 aces. Jennefer Collazo registered 9 points and Marcelle Baez with Cristal Paulino tallied 7 points apiece. Cuba’s top scorers were Thainalien Castillo with 18 points on 15 kills and 3 aces, and Claudia Tarin with 15 points. Cuban Yensy Kindelan was outstanding with 7 monster blocks.

Top scorer Valeria Otero of Puerto Rico said to be very excited “it wasn’t easy, they are a very tall team and we are a short team, despite that we won in five sets. It’s a team effort, we work together, we never give up, and we keep working until we get what we want. Our goal is the medal and that’s why we are working hard”.

About Sofia Victoria she added “she’s doing fine, she needed to rest for two matches, she is recovering”.

Visibly emotional, coach Juan Carlos Rodríguez of Puerto Rico spoke “it was dramatic, I am very glad with my girl’s hard work. What we planned last night, after studying the videos, turned out well. Our errors were few; we knew they were going to make mistakes. My team’s good attitude is also to thank for tonight’s victory”. 

About the meaning of being in semifinals he said “we are very happy, having a day off will be important for the two players that need to recover”.