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Cuba cruises in four sets

8/28/2004

ATHENS, Greece -- Though its Olympic-record streak of three
straight volleyball titles was over, Cuba played Saturday like it
deserved another gold.

A hard-hitting, high-jumping attack led by Nancy Carillo de la
Paz and Zoila Barros Fernandez sparked the Cubans to an easy
victory over Brazil in the bronze medal match, 25-22, 25-22, 14-25,
25-17.

"Even though we won the bronze, it feels like winning the
gold," Barros Fernandez said. "Our team is very young, and we
have plenty of time to win more medals."

Cuba won each of the last three Olympic tournaments, but several
stars have since retired and the transition hasn't been all that
smooth.

Still, four players remain from the 2000 team -- Yumilka Ruiz
Luaces, Ana Ivis Fernandez Valle, Marta Sanchez Salfran and Barros
Fernandez -- and there's clearly plenty of spunk left over.

When Carillo de la Paz killed match point with a spike at the
middle of the net, Sanchez Salfran did a high-step, stationary
sprint and spread her arms wide in celebration as a group hug
ensued. Barros Fernandez rushed out to jump on the top of it.

"We are very happy," Ruiz Luaces said, "and we are very
proud."

Ana "Bia" Chagas had 23 points for Brazil, which lost to Cuba
in the semifinals in each of the last two Summer Games but
recovered to win the bronze both times.

The second-ranked team in the world, Brazil fell behind 6-1 in
the fourth set, cut Cuba's lead to 15-12 and then faded, succumbing
to several hitting errors in the final stretch.

"The team in front of us was not the team we know," Cuba coach
Luis Felipe Calderon Biet said.

After blowing leads in each of the last three sets during a
five-set semifinal loss to Russia, the Brazilians weren't happy
about playing for third place.

"We couldn't digest the loss against Russia, and we brought
that bad feeling into the game," coach Jose Guimaraes said.