BEIJING As Western Hemisphere neighbors separated by less than 100 miles of sea water, the United States and Cuba have created a pretty intense women's volleyball rivalry.
Coming into Monday's match between the two favorites of their Beijing Olympics preliminary pool, Cuba held a 87-48 overall record in international matches against the U.S. since 1983 but only 17-22 in the last 10 years ...
Make that 17-23 for Cuba after Monday's three-set sweep of the Americans at Beijing's Capital Gymnasium, where U.S. players and coaches were not so much overwhelmed by the Cubans as much as they were underwhelmed by their own effort in the 25-15, 26-24, 25-17 defeat.
"We expected a more competitive match from ourselves," said Danielle Scott-Arruda, adding "what we can take away is to improve our serves and minimize our errors. And more fight we lacked fight."
Monday's victors didn't show the U.S. anything they haven't seen before.
"Cuba is always Cuba," said outside hitter Logan Tom, the former Utah high school standout. "They're going to jump high, they're going to hit hard and they're going to bomb."
In the latest FIVB world rankings, Cuba is ranked No. 3 and the United States No. 4, but the Americans seeming played a number of notches below that, with head coach "Jenny" Lang Ping critical of her team's instability and inconsistency.
Cuba romped to an easy 25-15 first-set win, but the U.S. rallied in the second and seemed set to even the score at 1-1, serving for set point at 24-23. However, Cuba ripped of three straight points for the game and a 2-0 lead and then cruised in the third for the sweeping victory.
"We had an opportunity in Game 2 and we let it slip away," said Lindsey Berg, who admitted that the weekend stabbing in Beijing of the parents of former U.S. national team member and '04 Olympian Elisabeth Bachman McCutcheon was still hanging over the players' heads.
"We're definitely all emotionally drained and we've had to play with a lot of emotions the past 48 hours, she said. "And yet we're still doing our job and trying to win each game."
Tayyiba Haneef-Park led the U.S. with 17 kills, while Tom as second best with just six. Cuba had two in double-digit kills Yumika Ruiz with 13 and Nancy Carrillo with 10.
But the U.S., now 1-1, knows Monday's loss is just one loss in five preliminary pool matches, with qualifying for the Olympic quarterfinals determined by overall pool standings and not just one single match.
In fact, in her appearance in the post-match press conference, Berg promised a U.S. win Wednesday against Venezuela.
And Tom didn't seem too worried about Monday's defeat."It's pool play it happens all the time," she said. "It's the Olympics. Cuba's on top of the world today. We'll have our day coming up."