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.
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.