It was a thrilling year for the Paralympic Movement in the United States and around the globe. Records were broken and legacies were made. From Dec. 18-30, USParalympics.org will unveil the Top 13 moments of 2013 for U.S. Paralympics in chronological order.
On Aug. 17 in Moscow, the U.S. Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team finally took down arch-rival China in a three-set sweep to win the gold medal at the Moscow Open Cup. It was the first ever victory for Team USA over China.
The United States had battled China in many a gold-medal match before. China kept Team USA from gold at both the 2008 and 2012 Paralympic Games as well as the 2010 Sitting Volleyball World Championships.
Team USA headed into the Moscow Open Cup with three players that were starters at the London Games and several more that were on the team in London.
They were hungry for redemption – and they got it on Aug. 17.
It was the first-ever victory for the U.S. women over China in a major tournament..
Team USA was ranked No. 2 worldwide leading into the Moscow Open Cup, with China holding the No. 1 spot.
The U.S. didn’t get off to the best start in the tournament, falling to both China and Moscow on the first day of competition. The U.S. women turned things around, though, to defeat Finland and the Netherlands on the second day. On the third day, a win over Moscow in the semifinals led the U.S. into the gold-medal match against China.
The Chinese didn’t make it an easy battle, surging to an immediate 1-8 lead before Team USA rallied to bring the score to 16-14 at the second technical timeout. That momentum would continue to build, as the U.S. ultimately took the first set 25-21.
Team USA didn’t let up from there, finishing the next two sets 25-20, 25-22, to win the match and the tournament.
U.S. Head Coach Bill Hamiter said the team had been strong enough to defeat China for quite some time, but simply found the confidence to do so in Moscow.
“We knew we were good enough to play with them and win, we just hadn’t done it yet,” Hamiter said. “It was a little bit of a relief to come in and get the win.”
The U.S. team had recently changed its offensive system from the two centers used at the London Games to just one, a change Hamiter said allowed for more flexibility on the court.
“Our starting center was Kaleo Kanahele (Oklahoma City, Okla.), and she was in London but was really one of our backup setters,” Hamiter said. “She wasn’t a starter, but now she is, and I think that consistency in her setting has made a big difference.”
The U.S. ended the tournament with a 4-2 overall record.
Heather Erickson (Fayetteville, N.C.) was named the most valuable player of the tournament after leading all scorers in the gold-medal match with 19 points. Erickson also had 13 attacks and five blocks, both match highs.
Erickson and Kanahele weren’t the only difference-makers in the historic win.
Katie Holloway (Lake Stevens, Wash.) added 13 points on 11 kills and two aces, while Monique Burkland (Ardmore, Okla.) finished with six points, three kills and three aces. Nicky Nieves (Kissimmee, Fla.) contributed six points of her own on five attacks and one block.
Leading in receptions was Team USA libero Kari Miller (Washington, D.C.), who recorded 17 at 65 percent positive.
Since Moscow, the U.S. women have stayed golden. At the 2013 ParaVolley Pan American Zonal Championships in October, Team USA went undefeated in a three-match weekend against Brazil to claim gold and qualify for the ParaVolley 2014 Sitting Volleyball World Championships.
The world championships, which are set for June 22 in Elblag, Poland, could be the most competitive yet, with China, Ukraine and Russia likely to be Team USA’s biggest threats.
“I think there are more teams playing at a high level now than there ever have been in the women’s division, so it’ll be difficult,” Hamiter said. “We’re trying not to oversell [the win over China], because there are going to be a lot more matches with them – but that was a huge win for our program and our ladies.”
U.S. Sitting Volleyball, which established its first women’s national team in 2002, trains at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, Okla. Team USA earned a bronze medal at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games and silver at both the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Games.
– B.J. Hoeptner Evans contributed to this report