COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (May 12, 2017) – Even Mother Nature couldn’t hold back the U.S. Women’s Junior National Team in its quest to qualify for the 2017 FIVB Women’s U20 World Championship.

The U.S. had four players reach double-figure scoring as it defeated Cuba 25-17, 25-23, 30-32, 25-20 Friday evening in the U20 Pan American Cup semifinals in San Jose, Costa Rica. The event is a qualification tournament to the 2017 FIVB Women’s U20 World Championship with the top finishing team from NORCECA and the top team finishing team from South America earning bids.

The U.S., now 4-0 in the tournament, moves into Saturday’s championship match (9:30 p.m. ET) and will face Argentina, which defeated Puerto Rico 25-21, 25-11, 25-9 in the second semifinal. As the lone remaining team from South America, Argentina had already earned its bid to the World Championship and gifted Team USA its spot in the Worlds by defeating NORCECA’s Puerto Rico in the semifinals setting up the NORCECA vs. South America showdown in the gold-medal match. Earlier, Team USA gifted Argentina’s its spot in the Worlds by defeating South America’s Uruguay in the quarterfinals. In the preliminary round Pool A, the Americans defeated Argentina in four sets on May 9.

In its opening set, Team USA inched its way to a 20-15 advantage over Cuba before the lights went out causing a 45-minute delay. The U.S. came out of the delay focused and went on to win 25-17. In the second set, Cuba built a 16-10 advantage only to have the Americans charge back on a 12-3 run to grab a 22-19 lead and hang on to win 25-23.

In the third set, the Americans clawed their way back into the lead at 22-19 with five unanswered points and 9-3 run. However, Cuba fought back to take the lead at 23-22 in the third set with four unanswered points, but the Americans earned their first match point at 24-23. Cuba saved the match point and answered with its first set point at 25-24. Team USA saved six set points before Cuba prevailed 32-20 on its seventh attempt to win the set. In the fourth set, the Americans rolled to a 6-1 lead with three straight blocks and comfortably held on for a 25-20 win.

Outside hitter Thayer Hall (Moore, South Carolina, Upward Stars) lead Team USA with 20 points on 17 kills on 38 attacks and three blocks. Middle Regan Pittman (Spring Hill, Kansas, University of Minnesota) charted 14 points with 10 kills via 15 swings and a team-leading four blocks. Outside hitter Khalia Lanier (Scottsdale, Arizona, University of Southern California) added 13 points via nine kills on 25 attacks, three aces and one block.

“I am really proud of our team effort tonight and just how we got after it, especially in the first two sets,” Hall said. “That third set is the hardest to come through. Especially in the end we brought it and came out strong in the fourth set. We are ready for the finals.”

“These young ladies played really well tonight with a lot composure,” U.S. Women’s Junior National Team Head Coach Jerritt Elliott said after the Americans’ semifinal victory. “We were up big in the first set 20-15 when the lights went out, and we came out and executed. We won game two, then we were up three points (in the third set), but they made some nice serves and we stuck with it and lost a close game. I was really impressed the way we executed in set four with our serving and side out game. We are practicing so well and this group has done a phenomenal job. I think they have great chemistry and has put us in a great position to potentially qualify for Worlds if Argentina wins tonight. I am really proud of this team, and I told them that USA Volleyball is really proud of them.”

Outside hitter Mackenzie May (Dubuque, Iowa, UCLA) contributed nine kills on 20 swings, two aces and a block for 11 points. Middle Brionne Butler (Kendleton, Texas, University of Texas) pocketed seven kills on 15 errorless attacks and two blocks for nine points. Setter MacKenzi Welsh (Bolingbrook, Illinois, University of Michigan) gained two kills and an ace for three points. Middle Elle Sandbothe (Lee’s Summit, Missouri) rounded out the scoring with two aces.

Libero Tiffany Clark (Naperville, Illinois) was credited with a team-leading seven digs to go with eight excellent receptions on 22 chances. Hall chipped in 11 excellent receptions on 27 chances, while Lanier turned in 10 excellent receptions on 32 chances.

“I thought this game really showed our mental toughness and our team fought really well,” Clark said. “I think we had some big players make some big points. Cuba is a really, really great team and we are very happy with that performance. Now we just need to go out and get the next one.”

Behind 18 running sets from Welsh on 95 set attempts, Team USA converted 45.4 percent of its attacks in points with a .361 hitting efficiency (54-11-119). In contrast, Cuba converted 43.2 percent of its attacks with a .258 hitting efficiency (57-23-132).

Cuba was plagued by errors in the match, committing 32 compared to Team USA’s 17. The Americans held an 8-5 ace margin to help offset Cuba’s 13-11 edge in blocks and 57-54 lead in kills.

Cuba had won Pool C with a 2-0 record and advanced directly to the semifinals. The U.S. won Pool A with a 2-0 record, but needed to win a quarterfinal match over Uruguay on Thursday to advance to the semifinals.

The U.S. started Welsh at setter, Hall and Lanier at outside, May at opposite, Butler and Pittman at middle and Clark as the libero. Sandbothe was a sub in all four sets, and Madison Lilley (Overland Park, Kansas, University of Kentucky) was a sub in the third and fourth sets. Opposite Holly Carlton (Sterling, Virginia, University of North Carolina) was a double sub in the fourth set.

U.S. Women’s Junior National Team for 2017 U20 Women’s Pan American Cup
# – Name (Position, 2017 Club/College, Height, Hometown, Region)
1 – Brionne Butler (M, University of Texas, 6-4, Kendleton, Texas, Lone Star)
2 – Tiffany Clark (L, TBA, 5-11, Naperville, Illinois, Great Lakes)
3 – Thayer Hall (OH, Upward Stars, 6-3, Moore, South Carolina, Palmetto)
4 – Paige Hammons (OH, University of Florida, 6-2, Louisville, Kentucky, Pioneer)
5 – Khalia Lanier (OH, University of Southern California, 6-2, Scottsdale, Arizona, Arizona)
6 – Madison Lilley (S, University of Kentucky, 6-0, Overland Park, Kansas, Heart of America)
7 – Mackenzie May (OH, UCLA, 6-3, Dubuque, Iowa, Iowa)
8 – Regan Pittman (M, University of Minnesota, 6-5, Spring Hill, Kansas, Heart of America)
9 – Holly Carlton (OPP, University of North Carolina, 6-7, Sterling, Virginia, Chesapeake)
10 – Elle Sandbothe (M, Kansas State University, 6-0, Lee’s Summit, Missouri, Heart of America)
14 – Mikayla Shields (OPP, University of South Carolina, 6-0, Orlando, Florida, Florida)
15 – MacKenzi Welsh (S, University of Michigan, 6-1, Bolingbrook, Illinois, Great Lakes)

Head Coach: Jerritt Elliott (head coach at University of Texas)
Assistant Coach: Paula Weishoff (head coach at Concordia University Irvine)
Assistant Coach/Statistician: Kevin Inlow (graduate assistant at University of Texas)
Team Leader: Tom Pingel (USA Volleyball High Performance)

2017 U20 Women’s Pan American Cup Schedule (all times ET)

Group A
May 8: Argentina def. Dominican Republic 25-17, 25-18, 25-20
May 9: United States def. Argentina 25-23, 25-19, 15-25, 25-21
May 10: United States vs. Dominican Republic, 7:30 p.m.

Group B
May 8: Uruguay def. Costa Rica 25-21, 25-18, 22-25, 26-24
May 9: Puerto Rico def. Uruguay 25-16, 25-19, 25-14
May 10: Costa Rica vs. Puerto Rico, 9:30 p.m.

Group C
May 8: Cuba def. Chile 25-17, 25-11, 25-12
May 9: Peru def. Chile 25-23, 25-16, 25-20
May 10: Cuba def. Peru 29-27, 26-24, 18-25, 25-15

Classification for 9th Place
May 11: Chile def. Costa Rica 25-15, 25-8, 25-19

May 11: Argentina (2A) vs. Peru (2C), 5:30 p.m.
May 11: United States (1A) def. Uruguay (2B) 25-10, 25-19, 25-17

Final Classification 7/8
May 12: Dominican Republic (3A) def. Chile (3C) 25-19, 25-17, 25-12

May 12: USA (1A) def. Cuba (1C) 25-17, 25-23, 30-32, 25-20
May 12: Argentina (2A) def. Puerto Rico (1B) 25-21, 25-11, 25-9

Final Classification 5/6
May 13: Peru (2C) vs. Uruguay (2B), 5:30 p.m.

Medal Round Matches
May 13: Cuba (1C) vs. Puerto Rico (1B), 7:30 p.m. (bronze medal)
May 13: USA (1A) vs. Argentina (2A), 9:30 p.m. (gold medal)