ANJI, China (March 23, 2016) –Kaleo Kanahele (Edmond, Oklahoma) and Bethany Zummo (Dublin, California) looked into the camera and exuberantly shouted, “We won!”

Just minutes before, the U.S. Women’s Sitting Team defeated host-nation China 25-22, 12-25, 25-20, 28-26 on Wednesday in the gold medal match at the World ParaVolley Intercontinental Cup, sending Zummo, Kanahele and their teammates into a joyous celebration.

“I’m so freaking excited,” Zummo said. “We earned it and it feels so good! We’ve worked so hard for this and it’s amazing.”

In addition to the championship, outside hitter Heather Erickson (Fayetteville, North Carolina) received individual honors as the tournament’s Best Attacker and Most Valuable Player for her contributions in the championship run.

Erickson and (Lake Stevens, Washington) led the Americans with 20 points each in the final match, recording 16 kills apiece. Holloway totaled four blocks, including match point, while Erickson added three blocks and one ace.

Despite her individual honors, the U.S. captain immediately credited her teammates for the outstanding performance at the tournament, particularly after a difficult five-set loss to China at the ParaVolley Sitting World Championships in 2014.

“There was a lot of maturing that we had to do and certain players rose up (this tournament),” Erickson said. “I mean, Bethany played her butt off, Lora (Webster) 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. It was awesome.”

The U.S. Women’s Sitting Team brings home an 8-0 record from the seven-day tournament, dropping just two sets – both to China. The U.S. defeated China 25-22, 18-25, 25-19, 25-17 during pool play on Friday.

Erickson gave the U.S. an early lead with a kill to score the match’s first point in the first set; the Americans stayed ahead of the Chinese throughout the set, leading by as many as five points.

The team’s defense faltered in the second set, allowing China to control the pace and quickly run up a double-digit lead. The U.S. reached back following the set loss and came out swinging to start the third, holding a lead for all but one rotation.

“I think (the second set) was good for us in that it kind of woke us up, and it helped us find where our shots were, Erickson said. “ 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.”

“We started tipping, tip, tip, tip, tip, and I started going, ‘Tipping is good for an open shot, but it isn’t going to win,” Head Coach Bill Hamiter said of the second set. “Let’s get up there, get an open shot and fire. That helped us in both the first and third set.”

After struggling to find its footing early in the match, the American’s blocking and defense came alive in the later sets, working in tandem to produce winning rallies; the U.S. out-blocked the Chinese 17-5 in the match. Webster led with five blocks, adding two kills for seven points.

The match’s final set produced high drama as both teams protested referee calls and played scrappy defense to keep rallies alive. Team USA received a yellow card at 13-13 in the fourth set after Erickson vehemently protested for a net violation following a Chinese kill.

“I mean, we have to control ourselves a bit better with the officiating, but in a way it fired them up. Heather was just loading up bombs and letting them go,” Hamiter said.

Although the U.S. held a 23-21 advantage late in the set, China fired back with two kills and a block to take a 24-23 lead and push the Americans against the wall.

An Erickson kill tied the set, and the teams traded points on attack errors before Holloway ended the match on a double block with Nicky Nieves (Kissimmee, Florida).

“We have to give credit to China,” Zummo said. “They played well. They earned that second set, but we weren’t going to give it up.”

“I think we all felt it going in, but the excitement after was almost a relief,” Holloway said. “We knew we could do this, but we’re finally the team we knew we could be.”

The team now turns its attention to its second major goal of 2016: winning a Paralympic gold medal. While the Rio de Janeiro-hosted games are five months away, Erickson anticipates the team will be back in the gym ready to get back to work following a week-long recovery.

““The good thing is that we have stuff to work on, and it wasn’t a slaughter so we won’t go back to our training and be lackadaisical,” she added. “Everyone is going to be working to get better and we have just as much work to do to be ready to win that gold.”

U.S. Women’s Sitting Team Statistics vs. China
Starters: Lora Webster, Katie Holloway, Heather Erickson, Monique Burkland, Kaleo Kanahele, Nicky Nieves, Bethany Zummo
Points: Holloway 20, Erickson 20, Burkland 10, Webster 7, Kanahele 3, Michelle Schiffler 2, Nieves 2, Lexi Shifflett
Kills: Erickson 16, Holloway 16, Burkland 7, Webster 2, Nieves 1, Kanahele 1, Schiffler 1
Blocks: Webster 5, Holloway 4, Erickson 3, Burkland 3, Schiffler 1, Kanahele 1
Aces: Erickson 1, Kanahele 1, Nieves 1, Shifflett 1

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
March 17:
 USA def Rwanda, 25-9, 25-10, 25-7
March 18: USA def China, 25-22, 18-25, 25-19, 25-17
March 18: USA def Iran, 25-18, 25-13, 25-18
March 19: USA def. Ukraine 25-13, 25-21, 27-25
March 20: USA def. Canada 25-8, 25-9, 25-8
March 21: USA def. Brazil 25-21, 25-15, 25-18
March 22: USA def. Brazil 25-10, 25-14, 25-20
March 23: USA def. China 25-22, 12-25, 25-20, 28-26

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: China def USA, 22-25, 25-19, 25-12, 25-18
March 18: Germany def USA, 25-14, 25-9, 25-21
March 19: Iran def USA, 25-10, 25-17, 30-28
March 20: Egypt def. USA 25-13, 25-22, 25-18
March 21: Brazil def. USA 25-15, 25-20, 25-17
March 22: Germany def. USA 25-16, 25-13, 25-18