Wilt Chamberlain's 100 points, Adrian Peterson's 296 rushing yards, and Roger Clemens' 20 strikeouts all prove that a single player can win a game in a team sport. While her name doesn't carry nearly as much weight as the aforementioned fellows, Puerto Rico's Aurea Cruz can be added to the list as she singlehandedly defeated the United States Saturday in four sets; 25-22, 20-25, 25-21, and 25-20 in the Pan Am games bronze medal game.
Easily the best player in the tournament, Cruz tallied 27 points Saturday afternoon on 23 kills and four blocks. Not an exceptionally tall player, Cruz uses her mobility and instincts to always be in the right place at the right time. In the Pan-Am games, she led everyone with 151 points, finished first in spikes, fourth in blocks, and tied for first in service aces. Cruz scored 43 more points than the closest player.
The US could never figure out Cruz, and it didn't help that Jordan Larson and Kristin Richards turned in another collective clunker. (They failed their teammates in the game against Brazil on Friday.) The pair combined for only 19 points and one ace. Larson is Team USA's best option to serve, but she never could get it going and finished with two service errors. It was for Larson, and for many of her teammates, a first taste of elite international competition.
But that doesn't excuse the fact the US was sluggish. "We came out flat and never got into any rhythm," said US head coach Hugh McCutcheon to reporters. It seemed Puerto Rico would be elated with a third place finish while the US appeared to be rattled and still fuming over the Brazilian beatdown.
Avenging their head-scratching loss to the Dominican Republic, Brazil cruised against that same team in the final in only three sets; 25-18, 25-20, and 25-14. Hours before the game, determined spectators wearing yellow and green could be seen entering the BankUnited Center. Brazil used its height to outblock the Dominican Republic 14-5 and Sheilla Castro scored 15 points while Natalia Pereira added 10.
Brazil's victory over defending champion Dominican Republic is the nation's second Pan-Am title. For America, a fourth place finish should be disappointing. The team looked unbeatable in its first five matches, only dropping one set. In the two playoff matches (both losses), the US lost six sets while only winning two.
America put all of their eggs in the Larson-Richards basket and when they faltered, the team was vulnerable and capable of being beaten by anybody. The Dominican team and especially the Brazilians, utilize all of their players on the roster with no clear drop in talent. The US has a terrific foundation in Larson, Richards and Nancy Metcalf, but if the team wants to win tournaments by beating Brazil, they will have to develop more depth to take the burden off of their young stars.
Final Tournament Standings:
2) Dominican Republic
3) Puerto Rico
4) United States
8) Costa Rica
10) Trinidad & Tobago