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USA worlds-bound after winning U21 men's gold


GATINEAU, Canada, July 10, 2016 – Team USA's finesse won the day against Cuba's power, and the Americans are world championship-bound by virtue of a 3-1 (25-17, 29-27, 19-25, 25-22) gold-medal game victory at the U21 NORCECA Men's Continental Championship on Sunday.


The hotly anticipated final at Centre Sportif de Gatineau swung on the second set. Team USA surmounted a six-point deficit (17-11), setting up a frantic finish where USA prevailed on the sixth set point after leading scorer Kyle Ensing put down a free ball. In the closeout set, tournament most valuable player and top setter Josh Tuaniga and USA played from ahead, preventing Cuba from getting closer than two points after the first technical timeout. A Miguel David Gutierrez serving error sealed the result.


“This is super-awesome, being able to fight with this team, go through it all and see that each guy wants it just as much if not more,” said Tuaniga, who crossed up Cuba with a no-look down ball to score the penultimate USA point. “Just to see the fire in our team.


 That's what makes all worth it. We've seen how much we love this game.


“Anything we do with 'USA' on the jersey, I love it. I just thank God for the opportunity. First time I've ever played Cuba. Such a great team. Such big arms.”


Ensing was top shot with an efficient 20 points (including 15 kills from 25 attacks), while Jordan Ewert added 19 (18 kills from 34 attacks). Jose Carlos Romero paced Cuba with 19 points (16 kills from 32 attacks), while the outside-hitter combo of Gutierrez and Miguel Lopez each had 14. Ewert and Gutierrez were each named the tournament's top spikers.


Team USA converted 55-of-106 attacks (51.9 per cent) while Cuba made good on 54-of-115 (47.0%). The Americans' reception seldom wavered, as Cuba was limited to three aces. .


“One of the things that we took pride in when we started training was we were not going to let anyone outwork us,” USA coach Jay Hosack said. “That second game was the deciding factor. We talked about sending a message by sending a ball back in play – does not matter if it's a free ball or a down ball – just to say to them 'you got to do better than that.' After that they started making more errors. I could not be more proud of the way they played tonight.


“Kyle Ensing had 18 kills and zero errors and hit over 70 per cent for the match. That's huge. We'll take that any night of the week.


“Cuba's a very good team, very strong,” Hosack added. “I would not be surprised if they were at worlds next year with an at-large berth.


 When you see teams like that for the whole week, they can bring some heat. I thought we took some of their swings away with our blocking schemes.”


Cuba, understandably disappointed, stayed alive winning the third set. They couldn't sustain momentum, with the USA taking an 8-6 lead into the first technical timeout.


“Today we didn't play like us,” Cuba coach Jesus Angel Cruz said. “We were very quiet. We didn't play like a Cuba team. Only the third set was good.”


Cuba did not drop a set in their first four games, which included a win against Canada during the group stage.


“I feel bad – we didn't meet our target,” said Roamy Alonso, who was named the tournament's top blocker. ”It was the final and the team was under a lot of pressure.”


Canada earned the bronze medal after defeating Guatemala 3-0 (25-13, 25-12, 25-19) on Sunday.


Tournament awards:

Best Spiker – Jordan Ewert, USA

Best Spiker – Miguel David Gutierrez, Cuba

Best Blocker – Marcus Thomas, Saint Vincent

Best Blocker – Roamy Alonso, Cuba

Best Receiver – Jordan Pereira, Canada

Best Server – Miguel Gutierrez Suarez, Cuba

Best Digger – Jordan Pereira, Canada

Best Setter – Josh Tuaniga, USA

Best Libero – Jordan Pereira, Canada

Best Opposite – Erik Flores, Guatemala

Best Scorer – Erik Flores, Guatemala

Most Valuable Player – Josh Tuaniga