BEIJING, China - "It's been a long time coming," was the comment heard over and over in Team USA's locker room after upsetting the Netherlands in five hard fought sets (19-25, 25-23, 28-26, 25-27, 15-10). But after the first set, even the most devoted USA Women's Sitting Volleyball fans were wondering if the team could pull it off.
"Our game plan wasn't working," commented Lora Webster (Cave Creek, Ariz./Edmond, Okla.) referring to the sluggish start. "We had to make changes in the middle and regroup."
Coach Mike Hulett (Chicago, Ill.) agreed. "We were all over the place, hitting it out of bounds and tipping it out of bounds. So we changed the game plan to hit in the middle of the court."
In the first set, the young U.S. team came out strong but then went on to post 11 errors, with eight of those hitting the ball out of bounce. Nichole Millage (Champaign, Ill./Edmond, Okla.) substituted in for Kendra Lancaster (Sheridan, Ind.) in the first set and then seemed to spark the team, playing the remainder of the match.
The second set started very similar to the first. The two teams exchanged points back and forth and the U.S. led at the first technical time-out 8-6. The Netherlands came storming back after the time-out and scored five unanswered points to move them into the lead. With great play from Webster, Millage and Katie Holloway (Lake Stevens, Wash./Edmond, Okla.), the team remained in the game, but unable to take the lead and with a score of 21-23 it began to look like the U.S. would drop the second set as well. Team Captain Brenda Maymon (Sellersberg, Ind.) scored a pivotal kill which placed the U.S. in serving position. With nerves of steel, 15-year old Erickson served the remainder of the set and the U.S. finished in the win column 25-23, which also marked the first time the U.S. had ever won a set against the Netherlands in actual competition.
"It was our rotation," commented an ecstatic Erickson. "I can get the ball over high and then we have time to adjust and make the plays."
With a win under their belt the team started the third set primed and ready and went on an early seven point run with Holloway serving and several key plays from Webster. The U.S. dominated through the first two technical time-outs and was up 16-10 after the break. The Netherlands would not go down quietly however, and began to creep back into the set and finally tied the game with a score of 20. Team USA called a time-out, but it didn't seem to help and the Netherlands scored two more unanswered points. The U.S. quickly stormed back and then the two teams began to exchange points back and forth. With the Netherlands leading 26-25, Karin van der Haar-Kramp served the ball out. The U.S. capitalized on its break and scored two points to finish the set 28-26.
In the fourth set, once again Team USA performed strong at the beginning and led 8-2 at the first technical time-out. However, the lead shrunk to only 9-8 in a matter of minutes when the Netherlands went on a run, scoring five unanswered points. After that, the teams went back and forth, lobbying for the lead position. With the score tied 18-18, Holloway scored an ace and Millage delivered on two key kills. The U.S. then went up 24-22, but couldn't take care of the match point. The Netherlands then scored three points to lead 25-24 before the U.S. tied the game up at 25. When the Netherlands pushed ahead by one, Millage spiked the ball out of bounce, causing the Netherlands to close the set with a win 27-25.
"It was the worst time for a miss-hit, but it happened and we moved on," said Millage. "I still knew we were going to beat them."
"After the fourth set it was a little emotional because we all thought we were going to win it," said Assistant Head Coach Denise Van deWalle (Bowling Green, Ohio). "But when we went into the fifth set it was all about that set. The Netherlands played the best they have the entire tournament. It was just about not being out-worked in the end."
The U.S. never looked back and dominated the fifth and final set, setting the tone early with a 7-1 lead. The Netherlands could never regain their footing and the U.S. closed the set and the match with a score of 15-10, sending them to the gold medal game.
"I have been playing for five years and we have never beat them (Netherlands) in an official competition," said an emotional Maymon. "We could never get the job done, but we finally did it! This is the exact set-up that we faced in Athens when the Netherlands beat us to go to the gold medal match. So this time, it feels great to beat them and to get to go to the gold medal match instead."
Holloway led the team in scoring with an amazing 23 points earned on 14 kills, six blocks and three aces. After Holloway's amazing numbers, the team contributed very evenly with Aldrich scoring 15 points, Millage 13, Maymon 11 and Webster and Erickson each contributing 10.
Team USA (3-1) will now face host country China (4-0) in the gold medal match on Sunday, September 14 at 18:00, at the China Agriculture University. China has yet to lose a set during the tournament and defeated the U.S. earlier in the week 25-14, 25-21, 25-19. In the 2004 Paralympic Games, the U.S. finished with a bronze medal finish and China finished with the gold.