Sailing to an 8-0 record in the span of seven days, the U.S. Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team capped its run with gold, defeating host China in four sets (25-22, 12-25, 25-20, 28-26) in the title match of the World ParaVolleyBall Intercontinental Cup in Anji, China.
The U.S. side was dominant in the tournament, losing only two sets the entire week. Both of those were to China, with one coming in the second set of the championship match.
Scoring the first point of the match on a kill from outside hitter Heather Erickson, the Americans started quickly and had the first set well in hand, building as much as a five-point lead to stay in front the entire way, ending with a 25-22 score. However, they were unable to carry that momentum into the second set. The U.S. women’s defense slipped, allowing the Chinese to run out to a double-digit lead and even the match, 18-25.
Team USA rediscovered its defense in the third set. With a revitalized blocking game, the U.S. generated several winning rallies to claim the third set, 25-19. Three-time Paralympian Lora Webster was the catalyst, recording five blocks and scoring two kills to give the visitors seven points.
In the fourth set, both teams came out with intensity and emotions flared, with each side picking up a yellow card. Holding a 23-21 advantage late, the U.S. saw China pick up two points on a pair of kills and a block to take the lead, 24-23. Teetering on the brink of defeat, the Americans scrapped back. Erickson scored a kill to tie the set, and the two teams traded points before a double block by outside hitters Katie Holloway and Nicky Nieves secured the victory.
Erickson, a two-time Paralympian, had 20 points, 16 kills, three blocks and an assist in the final, earning tournament Most Valuable Player and Best Attacker honors. Holloway matched Erickson’s points and kills in the championship match, adding four blocks, including match point.
The gold medal takes some of the sting out of a five-set loss to the Chinese in the final of the 2014 world championships, and showed how far the U.S. has come since then.
“There was a lot of maturing that we had to do,” Erickson, the U.S. captain, told USA Volleyball, “and certain players rose up. Bethany (Zummo) played her butt off, Lora played her butt off, and there were just certain things we needed to do to have a confidence boost. Everyone played lights out this week.
"I think (the second set) was good for us,” she continued. “It kind of woke us up and it helped us find where our shots were. China started dropping their block so Katie could just pound people. It actually was a blessing in disguise because it opened up a lot of stuff for us.”
With their gold medal safely tucked away beside the gold won at the 2015 Parapan American Games in Toronto, Team USA now sets its sights on its ultimate goal: taking the gold at this summer’s Paralympic Games in Rio.