Having won just five matches in 26 attempts againts the United States, Peru faced a challenge as daunting as trying to climb to Machu Picchu with one leg and a blindfold. But the scrappy 17th-ranked Peruvian squad gave the U.S. its toughest challenge of the tournament despite losing in three sets: 25-22, 25-21, and 26-24.
Drawing strength from supporters who never stopped chanting "O-le, ole, ole, ole -- Pe-ru, Pe-ru," the South American team dug every spike and tracked down every well-placed hit the U.S. could muster. With all their hustle, Peruvians made it difficult for the U.S. to score. Though the U.S. again enjoyed a height advantage, Peru outblocked the taller Americans 14-8 -- further evidence of their junkyard dog mentality.
But Jordan Larson and Kristin Richards had an answer to every Peruvian rally. When Peru trailed 23-22 in the first set, it was Larson and Richards who came up with back-to-back kills. Larson and Richards led the U.S. in scoring, with 14 and 13 points, respectively, and combined for three of the team's four service aces.
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And it was Larson's serve that turned off the lights of the Peruvians' upset party. After fending off a rally to barely win the second set, the U.S. trailed 20-14 in the third set when Larson began serving. Her vicious topspin enabled the U.S. to reel off seven unanswered points and snatch the lead, much to the dismay of the pro-Peru crowd. Like a beast near death, Peru remained dangerous and fought off two match points before Christa Harmotto ended the night with a kill.
Tonight the U.S. will play Puerto Rico in a battle of undefeateds. The winner will get some rest because Wednesday is a scheduled off-day, and pool winners (the U.S. or Puerto Rico) receive an extra day in the form of a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Peru should have no problem against 0-4 Guatemala today and will pose a serious threat in the playoffs. Pan-American volleyball teams, you have been warned.