FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (July 26, 2016) – The U.S. Women’s Junior National Team will look to secure the top seed in its pool on Thursday following a 25-15, 23-25, 25-15, 25-20 victory against Puerto Rico on Wednesday at the NORCECA U20 Continental Championship, being played at NOVA Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale.

The U.S. started hot, leading Puerto Rico the entire first set. A 9-3 run in the middle of the set, led by shut-down blocking by Brionne Butler (East Bernard, Texas) and Stephanie Samedy (Clermont Florida) put the U.S. firmly in the driver’s seat.

In a win that used nearly the whole roster, the U.S. dominated the net, out-blocking Puerto Rico 17-3, including nine blocks in the first set.

“We worked a lot on blocking at practice today and it really paid off,” Captain Sydney Hilley (Brooklyn Park), Minnesota) said. “I think serving and blocking are really our big strengths.” 

The Women’s Junior National Team fell behind early in the second set and struggled to overcome Puerto Rico, tying the score multiple times, but only managing to take one lead all set at 19-18 following a block by Butler and Paige Hammons (Louisville, Kentucky).

Butler and Lexi Sun (Encinitas, California) led the U.S. on Wednesday with 16 points each. Butler recorded a team-high five blocks with 10 kills and an ace, while Sun grabbed 11 kills with four blocks and an ace. Outside hitter Thayer Hall (Moore, South Carolina) and Taryn Knuth (Johnston, Iowa) each had eight kills, including a slide by Knuth for match point.

“She’s a beast. The ability of that kid is just amazing,” Head Coach Laurie Corbelli said of Knuth. “I think she’s just a real consistent player and you know what you’re always going to get from her and that’s really good for our players to know that Taryn’s never going to be too high or too low.”

The U.S. rallied in the third set with dynamic attacking — balancing well-placed tips with powerful swings – and consistent serving. After a 5-0 run opened the fourth set, Puerto Rico answered with its own 8-2 run.

The U.S. refused to be broken, capitalizing on its opponent’s errors at key moments to secure the win.

“Puerto Rico played really well and they challenged us a lot,” Hilley said. “But then we got into a rhythm in the third and fourth set.” 

The U.S. will face Mexico in the final pool play match on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET. Each team currently holds a 2-0 record; the top-seed in the pool earns a bye for Friday’s quarterfinal, while the second-seeded team will play a crossover quarterfinal match against the third seed from the other pool consisting of Cuba, Costa Rica, Haiti and Dominican Republic.

Hilley said the game-plan for Mexico is simple:

“They’re going to be really scrappy and going to be just as competitive as Puerto Rico so we’ve got to show up to play.”

In Wednesday’s win, the U.S. balanced the point-scoring: eight players scored at least one point.  Samedy had four blocks and kills for eight points, while Hammons tallied five kills and two blocks for seven points to round out the leading scorers.

Hosted by the U.S. for the first time, the NORCECA U20 Continental Championship features eight teams: Mexico, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Haiti, French St. Martin, Cuba and the United States. The U.S. Women’s Junior National Team won the championship in 2014, automatically qualifying for the 2015 FIVB World Championship.

U.S. Starters vs. Puerto Rico
Outside hitters: Paige Hammons, Lexi Sun
Middle blockers: Bri Butler, Taryn Knuth
Opposite: Stephanie Samedy
Setter: Sydney Hilley
Libero: Jamye Cox

U.S. Statistics vs. Puerto Rico
Kills: Sun 11, Butler 10, Thayer Hall 8, Knuth 8, Hammons 5, Samedy 4, Mackenzie May 3
Blocks: Butler 5, Samedy 4, Sun 4, Hammons 2, Hall 1, Thayer 1
Aces: Butler 1, Hilley 1, Knuth 1, Sun 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:
Haiti vs. Costa Rica, 1 p.m.
Puerto Rico vs. French St. Martin, 3 p.m.
Cuba vs. Dominican Republic, 5 p.m.
United States vs. Mexico, 7 p.m.

Friday, July 29:
2nd Pool A vs. 3rd Pool B, 5 p.m.
2nd Pool B vs. 3rd Pool A, 7 p.m.

Saturday, July 30:
1st Pool A vs. Winner of Quarterfinal 1, 5 p.m.
1st Pool B vs. Winner of Quarterfinal 2, 7 p.m.

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