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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (July 26, 2016) – The U.S. Women’s Junior National Team accomplished one of its goals Thursday night when the team defeated Mexico 33-31, 25-12, 25-5 to sweep its pool at the NORCECA U20 Continental Championship.

The victory gives the U.S. a quarterfinal bye on Friday; on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET, the team will play the winner of Friday’s quarterfinal between Cuba and Mexico.

“We’ve had one day off in the last 18 days. So that was a big incentive tonight was to win this match and have a day off tomorrow,” Head Coach Laurie Corbelli said. “I think the team is going to get a chance to relax. They have a lot of fun together and that’s a big part of the team as well—the time away from the court.”

But Thursday night was all about celebrating a victory in which the U.S. consistently elevated its play as the match continued.

After falling behind 24-22 in Set 1, a Mackenzie May (Dubuque, Iowa) kill start a mini-run to tie the run. However, both teams struggled to close the match; Mexico faced eight set points during the final stretch while the U.S. went up four times themselves. Thayer Hall (Moore, South Carolina) put the U.S. ahead 32-31, before setter Madison Lilley (Overland Park, Kansas) dropped the ball into open court on a second touch to clinch the set.

“With rally scoring, you make a mistake and it’s done,” Corbelli said. “We had to be error-free and focused and they had to remember their assignments, and it was really exciting to see the team battle back and win that one. They wanted to make sure they could come back and know we can do that.”

Lexi Sun (Encinitas, California) proved key to the U.S.’s success, totaling 18 kills with four blocks and four aces for a tournament-high 26 points, tallying a 75 attack percentage. A six-point service run by Sun, which included three aces and two back-row-attacks in the second seat put the U.S. ahead 18-9 and firmly in control of the match.

“I think Lexi anchored the team in the first set and kept talking and believing and keeping them all involved,” Corbelli said. “She really dominated the match.”

However, Sun was quick to credit her teammates, “I think that we have begun to click a lot more as a team and learn how to play together. It was a really fun match and we had a lot of energy tonight.” 

Sydney Hilley (Brooklyn Park, Minnesota) and Paige Hammons (Louisville, Kentucky) had significant service runs of their own – Sydney led the U.S. on a 10-0 run to open the third set, while Hammons closed the match, serving from 15-5 to match point.

“(Assistant Coach) Genny Volpe is giving us serving targets the whole time and really encouraging us to get after it,” Sun said. “It’s been fun.”

Thursday’s win also marked the first time Corbelli used her entire roster; middle blocker Lauren Sanders (Snohomish, Washington) started the match after struggling with a nagging ankle injury much of the last two weeks. Ten of 12 players recorded at least one point in the match, marking the most even performance by the U.S. this tournament.

Brionne Butler (East Bernard, Texas) (four kills, two blocks, two aces), Hall (six kills, one block, one ace) and Taryn Knuth (Johnston, Iowa) (three kills, five blocks) each scored eight points. Opposite hitter Stephanie Samedy (Clermont, Florida) added six points on four kills and two blocks.

Jamye Cox (Oregon, Ohio) and Hailey Harward (Phoenix, Arizona) shared libero responsibilities, anchoring a U.S. defense that was challenged early in the match.

Through pool play the U.S. dropped just one set, outscoring its opponents 254-134. The Americans are the defending NORCECA U20 Continental Champions. This year’s tournament features Mexico, Puerto Rico, Haitie, Cuba, French St. Martin, Dominican Republic and the United States. Dominican Republic, which swept its pool play matches, will be the No. 1 seed overall heading into the playoffs.

U.S. Starters vs. Mexico
Outside hitters: Thayer Hall, Lexi Sun
Middle blockers: Lauren Sanders, Taryn Knuth
Opposite: Mackenzie May
Setter: Madison Lilley
Libero: Hailey Harward

U.S. Statistics vs. Mexico
Kills: Sun 18, Hall 6, Brionne Butler 4, Paige Hammons 4, May 4, Stephanie Samedy, Knuth 3, Lilley 3, Sanders 1
Blocks: Knuth 5, Sun 4, Butler 2, Samedy 2, Hall 1, May 1, Sanders 1
Aces: Sun 4, Butler 2, Sydney Hilley 2, Hammons 1, Hall 1

2016 U.S. Women’s Junior National Team 
No. Name (Position, Hometown, Height, High School Grad Year, Cub, Region)
1. Brionne Butler (MB, East Bernard, Texas, 6-3, 2017, Houston Juniors, Lone Star)
2. Jamye Cox (L, Oregon, Ohio, 5-3, 2017, Michigan Elite, Lakeshore)
3. Paige Hammons (OH, Louisville, Kentucky, 6-2, 2017, KIVA, Pioneer)
5. Thayer Hall (OH, Moore, South Carolina, 6-3, 2018, Upward Stars Upstate, Southern)
6. Hailey Harward (L, Phoenix, Arizona, 5-9, 2016, Aspire 18 Rox, Arizona)
7. Sydney Hilley (S, Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, 5-11, 2017, Minnesota Select, North Country)
8. Taryn Knuth (MB, Johnston, Iowa, 6-3, 2017, Iowa Power, Iowa)
9. Madison Lilley (S, Overland Park, Kansas, 6-0, 2017, KC Power, Heart of America)
10. Mackenzie May (OH, Dubuque, Iowa, 6-3, 2017, Adrenaline Volleyball Academy, Iowa)
12. Lauren Sanders (MB, Snohomish, Washington, 6-5, 2017, WVBA 18 Mizuno, Puget Sound)
13. Stephanie Samedy (OH, Clermont, Florida, 6-2, 2017, Top Select Volleyball Academy, Florida)
20. Lexi Sun (OH, Encinitas, California, 6-3, 2017, Coast VBC, Southern California)

Head Coach: Laurie Corbelli
Assistant Coaches: Brian Wright and Genny Volpe
Technical Coordinator: Jesse Tupac
Team Leader: Lizzy Briones

NORCECA U20 Continental Championships Schedule (All times listed in eastern standard time)
Tuesday, July 26:

Cuba def. Haiti, 25-8, 25-9, 25-14
Dominican Republic def. Costa Rica, 25-7, 25-6, 25-3
Puerto Rico def. Mexico, 25-23, 23-25, 25-20, 19-25, 15-7
United States def. French St. Martin, 25-2, 25-4, 25-5

Wednesday, July 27:
Mexico def. French St. Martin, 25-7, 25-3, 25-8
Dominican Republic def. Haiti, 25-15, 25-6, 25-10
Cuba def. Costa Rica, 25-9, 25-9, 25-10
United States def.  Puerto Rico, 25-15, 23-25, 25-15, 25-20

Thursday, July 28:
Costa Rica def. Haiti, 25-23, 25-23, 25-17
Puerto Rico def. French St. Martin, 25-5, 25-4, 25-7
Cuba vs. Dominican Republic, 25-21, 25-18, 26-24
United States vs. Mexico, 33-31, 25-12, 25-5

Friday, July 29:
Quarterfinals:
Cuba vs. Mexico, 5 p.m.
Puerto Rico vs. Costa Rica, 7 p.m.

Saturday, July 30:
Semifinals:
Dominican Republic vs. Winner of PR/CR, 5 p.m.
USA vs. Winner of Cuba/Mexico, 7 p.m.

Sunday, July 31: 
Bronze medal match, 5 p.m. 
Gold medal match, 7 p.m.