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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (July 30, 2016) – The U.S. Women’s Junior National Team stormed its way into the NORCECA U20 Continental Championship Saturday night behind double digit performances by Lexi Sun (Encinitas, California) and Brionne Butler (East Bernard, Texas).

The U.S. topped Cuba 25-13, 25-14, 25-22 in the semifinals to book a ticket to Sunday’s final against Dominican Republic, which defeated Puerto Rico 25-17, 25-19, 25-19 in the evening’s first semifinal at NOVA Southeastern University.

Sun led for the second consecutive match, posting 18 points (14 kills, three aces, one block) following a 26-point performance against Mexico Thursday night. Butler added 11 points of her own (eight kills, two blocks, one ace), changing the match’s momentum early with consistent blocking that slowed – and stopped – rallies.

“I think Bri was really feeling it today. She wanted the ball and she wanted to win,” starting setter Sydney Hilley (Brooklyn Park, Minnesota) said. “I just kept feeding her and the connection was just there tonight.”

Butler and Hilley opened the match with a block against Cuba, followed by a Hilley ace. Although Cuba hung close in the early-going, tying the set after the U.S. took a 5-1 lead, the Americans pulled away through a series of three and four point service runs, capitalizing on Cuban attack errors.

Anchoring Team USA’s victory was consistent, scrappy defense. Libero Jamye Cox led the U.S., hustling for both short balls and passing up powerful attacks by Cuba’s Gretell Moreno and Diaris Ramos Perez. Hilley called it the best defense of the tournament, which Head Coach Laurie Corbelli corroborated.

“Cuba plays a lot like we do. They’re touching high and hitting hard off the block, so I think it was familiar,” Corbelli explained. “The sentiment seems to be this team doesn’t play very good defense. However, they’re committed and it’s very much a team thing. They’re really starting to gel.”

In Set 2, Cuba challenged as Perez found her stride. A second time the U.S. neutralized Cuba, using two three-point service runs by Hilley and Paige Hammons (Louisville, Kentucky) to pull ahead for good. Cuba found its stride in Set 3, as the teams traded leads.

Hammons, Butler and Sun helped keep the U.S. ahead through the middle of the set; two service aces by Sun and a Taryn Knuth (Johnston, Iowa) gave the U.S. a 22-18 lead late in Set 3, all but securing the win as Cuba struggled to find momentum. Hammons sealed the win with a high-reaching swing from the outside. 

The U.S. will need to continue its upward trajectory Sunday evening to defend its NORCECA U20 gold medal from 2014; gold medal match opponent Dominican Republic has not dropped a set, outscoring opponents 300-165. Nonetheless, the Women’s Junior National team swept Dominican Republic last week at High Performance Championships, bolstering the Americans’ confidence.

However, for Butler, Hilley, Sun, Hammons, Madison Lilley (Overland Park, Kansas) and Stephanie Samedy (Clermont, Florida), Sunday’s final is deeply personal: All five were members of the 2015 Girls’ Youth National Team, which took silver to Italy at the FIVB U18 World Championships.

“They’re going to want to get us back for beating them at HPCs, but we’re ready for them,” Hilley said. “I don’t want to get second again.”

Also on the line? An automatic bid to the 2017 FIVB U20 Continental Championships, scheduled for next summer in Mexico. The top team will automatically qualify, while all other teams will have to try and qualify at the Pan Am Cup, to be held early next summer.

The match is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET at NOVA Southeastern University.

U.S. Starters vs. Cuba
Outside hitters: Paige Hammons, Lexi Sun
Middle blockers: Brionne Butler, Taryn Knuth
Opposite: Mackenzie May
Setter: Sydney Hilley
Libero: Jamye Cox

U.S. Statistics vs. Mexico
Kills: Sun 14, Butler 8, Hammons 7, Knuth 5, May 5, Stephanie Samedy 2
Blocks: Knuth 4, Butler 2, Hilley, May 1, Sun 1
Aces: Sun 3, Hilley 2, Butler 1, May 1

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 def. Mexico, 25-21, 25-19, 25-20
Puerto Rico def. Costa Rica, 25-18, 25-15, 25-10

Saturday, July 30:
Semifinals:
Dominican Republic def. Puerto Rico, 25-17, 25-19, 25-19
USA def. Cuba, 25-13, 25-14, 25-

Sunday, July 31: 
Bronze Medal Match: Cuba vs. Puerto Rico, 5 p.m. 
Gold Medal Match: USA vs. Dominican Republic, 7 p.m.