RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (Sept. 15, 2016) – The U.S. Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team will play for history on Saturday in the 2016 Paralympic Games gold medal final after defeating host-nation Brazil 25-13, 28-26, 25-18 Thursday night. 

The U.S. faces longtime rival China for gold on Saturday at 6 p.m. ET. Fans can watch the match live at . Since women’s sitting volleyball was introduced as a Paralympic sport in 2004, China has won gold every time. The U.S. lost to China in the finals both in 2008 and 2012, and hopes to alter the result on Saturday.

“It feels so amazing to know I’m going to be playing in my first Paralympic gold medal final! It honestly feels amazing because we’ve worked so hard to get here,” Nicky Nieves (Kissimmee, Florida) said after the match.

Nieves had a four-point serve run late in the second set to put the U.S. ahead 22-17 after the teams traded leads multiple times early in the set. Following a shaky service performance earlier in the tournament, the 5-10 middle blocker said she was relieved to have consistent serving.

“I really was just focused on keeping it in. The first few matches the crowd noise got to me a little so I gave myself more time,” Nieves said.

The U.S. raced ahead of Brazil early in Set 1, capitalizing on Brazilian errors and controlling the set with strong serving. Katie Holloway (Lake Stevens, Washington) rallied off a six-point service run to put the U.S. ahead in the set with a lead it never surrendered.

In Set 2, the U.S. took a 24-20 lead, but Brazil stormed back to tie it at 24-24. Captain Heather Erickson (Fayetteville, North Carolina) blocked a serve to tie the set at 26-26; a Lora Webster (Point Lookout, New York) put the U.S. ahead and the Americans took a 2-0 lead on a Brazilian attack error.

“When we needed to step it up and compete, we did that and made it happen,” Head Coach Bill Hamiter said. “I told them after we won, it really takes a great team to win in an atmosphere like that even when you’re not playing well.”

Erickson led the U.S. in the win with 14 points (11 kills, three blocks). Webster (nine points: four kills, four blocks, one ace) and Holloway (eight kills) led the balanced U.S. attack which saw five players with at least four kills. 

As Set 3 began, Brazil built on the momentum gained from closing the gap in the previous set, jumping out to an 8-3 lead. Scrappy defense and kills by Holloway and Kaleo Kanahele (Edmond, Oklahoma) brought the score within one, but Brazil continued to pull ahead.

The U.S. took the lead for good at 10-9 on a Nieves tip kill, pushing the lead as the match went on behind strong defense led by Erickson and Kanahele with eight digs each.

“Our defense kept us in the match,” Hamiter said. “Now it’s over and we can take the next step.”

The U.S. will regroup quickly on Friday, preparing for a gold medal final date with China. Since the 2008 Paralympic Games, the U.S. and China have played in five gold medal finals, including both the 2010 and 2014 World Championships. China holds a 4-1 record in those matches; the U.S.’s single gold came earlier this year at the World ParaVolley Intercontinental Cup.

For Kanahele, member of the 2012 silver-medal winning U.S. squad, the opportunity to play China is the matchup the team wanted.

“We’ve played them so much and we know each other so well, so we know it will be a tough fight,” Kanahele said. “But we didn’t quite do enough against them (in pool play), so we’ll be looking to play our best match.”

On Sunday, China defeated the U.S. 3-2 in the closest match of the women’s Paralympic sitting volleyball tournament.

U.S. Starters vs. Brazil
Middle blockers:
  Lora Webster, Michelle Schiffler
Outside hitters:  Katie Holloway, Monique Burkland
Opposite:  Heather Erickson
Setter:  Kaleo Kanahele
Libero: Bethany Zummo

U.S. Statistics vs. Brazil
Kills: Heather Erickson 11, Katie Holloway 8, Monique Burkland 4, Nicky Nieves 4, Lora Webster 4, Kaleo Kanahele 1
Blocks: Webster 4, Nieves 3, Erickson 3, Burkland 2
Aces: Burkland 3, Nieves 2, Webster 1
Digs: Erickson 8, Kanahele 8, Holloway 7, Burkland 4, Webster 3, Nieves 2, Bethany Zummo 1
Assists: Kanahele 21, Webster 3, Nieves 2, Erickson 1

U.S. Paralympic Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team Roster

No. Name (Position, Height, Hometown)

1. Lora Webster (MB, 5-11, Point Lookout, New York)

2. Bethany Zummo (L, 5-2, Dublin, Calif.)

3. Alexis Shifflett (S, 5-4, Waseca, Minn.)

4. Michelle Schiffler (OH/MB, 6-0, Lake Wales, Fla.)

5. Katie Holloway (OH, 6-3, Lake Stevens, Wash.)

6. Heather Erickson (OH, 5-11, Fayetteville, NC)

7. Monique Burkland (OH, 5-9, Ardmore, Okla.)

10. Kari Miller (L, 5-6, Washington D.C.)

13. Nichole Millage (OH, 5-7, Champaign, Ill.)

14. Kaleo Kanahele (S, 5-6, Edmond, Okla.)

16. Nicky Nieves (MB, 5-10, Kissimmee, Fla.)

17. Tia Edwards (OH, 5-7, Skitatook, Okla.)

Head Coach: Bill Hamiter

Team Leader: Michelle Goodall

Assistant Coaches: Cara Lang and Lazaro Beltran

Technical Coordinator: Jeff Hicks

Athletic Trainer: Patrick Lawrence

Press Officer: Karen Patterson

2016 Paralympic Games Women’s Sitting Volleyball Pools
Pool A: Brazil, Ukraine, Netherlands, Canada
Pool B: China, United States, Iran, Rwanda

2016 Paralympic Games Women’s Sitting Volleyball Schedule
All times EDT

Sept. 9
Brazil def. Canada, 25-7, 25-12, 25-14
Ukraine def. Netherlands, 21-25, 22-25, 25-13, 26-24, 15-12

Sept. 10
China def. Rwanda, 25-3, 25-8, 25-6
USA def. Iran, 25-17, 25-13, 25-9

Sept. 11
Netherlands def. Canada, 22-25, 25-17, 25-17, 25-22
Brazil def. Ukraine, 25-19, 25-20, 25-14

Sept. 12
Iran def. Rwanda, 25-10, 25-19, 25-18
China def. USA, 25-17, 14-25, 14-25, 28-26, 15-13

Sept. 13
Brazil def. Netherlands, 25-18, 25-15, 25-21
Ukraine def. Canada, 25-20, 25-19, 25-16

Sept. 14
USA def. Rwanda, 25-10, 25-8, 25-3
China def. Iran, 25-16, 25-19, 25-11

Sept. 15
Women’s 7th-8th Classification: Canada def. Rwanda, 25-21, 25-15, 25-20
Women’s 5th-6th Classification: Iran def. Netherlands, 25-21, 25-13, 23-25, 15-25, 15-13  
China def. Ukraine, 25-14, 25-23, 25-20
USA def. Brazil, 25-13, 28-26, 25-18

Sept. 17
Women’s bronze medal match, Ukraine vs. Brazil, 3:30 p.m.
Women’s gold medal match, China vs. USA,  6 p.m.