ANJI, China (March 17, 2016) – Lora Webster doesn’t consider herself a particularly strong server.
The Rwanda Women’s Sitting Team may disagree after the U.S. Women’s Sitting Team middle blocker dished up 23 serves in three sets, with six aces during the United States’ 25-9, 25-10, 25-7 victory over the African side at the World ParaVolley Intercontinental Cup.
The U.S. Men’s Sitting Team struggled to minimize errors in their first match, falling 3-1 (22-25, 25-19, 25-12, 25-18) to host-nation China.
“Typically I’ve had a top-spin serve, but lately I’ve switched to more of a float so that’s been more comfortable,” Webster said. “With Rwanda, it wasn’t about speed. It was more about placement, so that helped too.”
Strong serving – the U.S. Women’s Sitting team totaled 19 aces against three missed serves – was one of multiple areas of success for Team USA in its tournament-opening match.
Thursday marked the first day of play at the Intercontinental Cup, which features 28 teams from 18 nations, including 13 of the Rio de Janeiro Paralympic-qualified teams. Both U.S. Men’s and Women’s Sitting Teams are playing in round-robin pools against other qualified teams.
The U.S. Women’s Sitting Team spread the ball throughout their match; seven players totaled at least three kills, led by Monique Burkland (10 kills, 1 block). The statistics reflected the team’s efforts to master a new offense, said Head Coach Bill Hamiter.
“We saw a little bit where the flow (of the volley) was going one way and we set opposite that flow,” Hamiter said. “It’s simple stuff, really, but stuff that we haven’t pushed real hard. I thought we executed well today, and we were getting a lot of single blocks, which is why we want to go on that faster scheme.”
Thanks to the early success, Hamiter experimented with the team’s line-up, using multiple substitutions in all three sets; all 12 players saw playing time in the win.
“Especially what’s nice is to get them playing time in the tournament so that no matter who we need on the court they’re ready,” he said.
Serving runs of at least eight points by Webster, Nicky Nieves and Lexi Shifflet in the first, second and third sets respectively helped push the U.S. ahead of Rwanda. However, Webster said the team’s ability to maintain its level of play with large leads was more significant.
“A lot of times we play down, so I think that says a lot about us as a team and how comfortable we feel with our offense,” she explained. “Even though we did a couple different lineups and different systems, the fact that we focused on what we were doing says a lot about our mindset and where our preparation falls.”
The team will look to carry the high expectations forward to Friday when the women take on both China and Iran. Ranked No. 1 in the world, China has become the U.S. Women’s Sitting Team’s top rival since the 2008 Paralympics.
Despite the pressure, Burkland said the team is taking the match in stride, planning to rest, relax and strategize Thursday evening.
“It’s going to be a fun match, and we just have to stay relaxed,” she said.
The U.S. Men’s Sitting Team also implemented an up-tempo offense finding varied success. Although the team struggled with errors, setter James Stuck said the new system will pay dividends long-term.
“It’s challenging, but it’s going to take our game to the next level and I like the challenge,” Stuck added.
During the first set, the Americans paced the Chinese, trading runs and shots. However, after taking an 8-5 lead in the second set, the U.S. struggled to maintain its tempo, allowing the Chinese to pull ahead as the set wore on.
“We knew what they were going to do and where the ball was going to go, and we knew what we wanted to do with our match-ups. I felt like it was the honeymoon phase where the attention to detail was better,” said U.S. Men’s Head Coach Greg Walker of the first set. “As we went into the second set, we lost track of where our primary players were and China changed their game, and we weren’t adjusting.”
In addition to tightening up the offense, captain Eric Duda hopes to see the U.S. Men’s Sitting Team improve its aggressive serving on Friday when it takes on Germany.
“I think we need to have a better focus than just putting the ball in play,” Duda said. “There’s got to be good focus.”
The U.S. Women’s Sitting Team next plays China at 9 p.m. ET on March 17, before playing Iran at 2:30 a.m. ET. The Men’s Sitting Team will play Germany at (12 a.m. ET on March 18).
U.S. Women’s Sitting Team Roster for the Intercontinental Cup (March 17-23)
# – Name (Position, Hometown, Height)
1 – Lora Webster (MB, Phoenix, Arizona, 5-11)
2 – Bethany Zummo (L, Dublin, California, 5-2)
3 – Alexis Shifflet (S, Waseca, Minnesota, 5-4)
4 – Michelle Schiffler (MB, Lake Wales, Florida, 6-0)
5 – Katie Holloway (OH, Lake Stevens, Washington, 6-3)
6 – Heather Erickson (OH, Fayetteville, North Carolina, 5-11)
7 – Monique Burkland (MB, Ardmore, Oklahoma, 5-9)
10 – Kari Miller (OPP/DS, Washington D.C., 5-6)
13 – Nichole Millage (OH, Champaign, Illinois, 5-7)
14 – Kaleo Kanahele (S, Edmond, Oklahoma, 5-6)
16 – Nicky Nieves (OH, Kissimmee, Florida, 5-10)
17 – Tia Edwards (OH/MB, Skiatook, Oklahoma, 5-7)
Head Coach: Bill Hamiter
Assistant Coach: Cara Lang
Assistant Coach: Lazaro Beltran
Team Manager: Dr. Laura Finch
Athletic Trainer: Patrick Lawrence
U.S. Intercontinental Cup Women’s Sitting Team Schedule (times listed as Chinese Standard Time)
March 17: USA def Rwanda, 25-9, 25-10, 25-7
March 18: USA vs. China, 9 a.m. (9 p.m. ET on March 17)
March 18: USA vs. Iran, 2:30 p.m. (2:30 a.m. ET)
March 19: USA vs. Ukraine, 10:30 a.m. (10:30 p.m. ET on March 18)
March 20: USA vs. Canada, 5:30 p.m. (5:30 a.m. ET)
March 21: USA vs. Brazil, 12 p.m. (12 a.m. ET)
U.S. Men’s Sitting Volleyball Team Roster for the Intercontinental Cup (March 17-23)
# – Name (Position, Hometown, Height)
1 – Travis Ricks (DS, San Diego, California, 5-7)
2 – Daniel Regan (MB, St. Louis, Missouri, 6-0)
3 – Sam Surowiec (OH, Kirkland, Washington, 6-2)
4 – Ben Aman (OH, Tacoma, Washington, 6-5)
5 – Eric Duda (OH, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 6-5)
8 – James Stuck (S, New Kensington, Pennsylvania, 6-5)
9 – Hugo Storer (L, Greensboro, North Carolina, 6-0)
11 – Roderick Green (MB, West Monroe, Louisiana, 6-3)
13 – Charlie Swearingen (MB, Gulfport, Mississippi, 6-3)
14 – John Kremer (L, Buford, Georgia, 5-9)
15 – Chris Seilkop (OH, DeLand, Fla., 6-6)
16 – Josh Smith (MB/OPP, Riverside, California, 6-2)
Head Coach: Greg Walker
Assistant Coach: Joe Skinner
Assistant Coach: Mike Hobson
Team Manager: Dixie Collins
Athletic Trainer: Katherine King
U.S. Intercontinental Cup Men’s Sitting Team Schedule (times listed as Chinese Standard Time)
March 17: USA lost to China, 22-25, 25-19, 25-12, 25-18
March 18: USA vs. Germany, 12 p.m. (12 a.m. ET)
March 19: USA vs. Iran, 9 a.m. (9 p.m. ET on March 18)
March 20: USA vs. Egypt, 2:30 p.m. (2:30 a.m. ET)
March 21: USA vs. Brazil, 9 a.m. (9 p.m. ET on March 20)