USA Men's A2 Team Fights Off Mexico at Pan Am Cup

May 26, 2010

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - The U.S. Men's A2 Volleyball Team, coached by UC Santa Barbara head coach Rick McLaughlin, struggled in its opening match, but survived to defeat Mexico, 3-2 (19-25, 25-23, 25-18, 26-28, 15-9), on Tuesday in the 2010 Pan American Cup at Roberto Clemente Coliseum.

The U.S. is 1-0 in pool play and will face host Puerto Rico (1-0) at 9 p.m. ET on Wednesday to determine the pool winner. Puerto Rico defeated Mexico (25-20, 21-25, 25-23, 25-18) on Monday.

Officially, Dean Bittner (Lakewood, Calif.) led the U.S. Men with 24 points on 21 kills (0.46 attack percentage) and three blocks. Robert Tarr (Cape Canaveral, Fla.) added 20 points on 16 kills (0.39 attack percentage) and four blocks.

Jayson Jablonsky (Yorba Linda, Calif.) scored 17 points on 13 kills (0.42 attack percentage), three blocks and one ace. David Smith (Saugus, Calif.) contributed 13 points on eight kills (0.53 attack percentage), and a match-high five blocks.

Ivan Contreras led Mexico with 27 points, including a match-high 26 kills, and Jesus Rangel chipped in 17.

"Mexico battled as hard as I have ever seen," McLaughlin said. "This is a young team and we look forward to continue improving with the tournament. The competition is very even from one to nine."

"We had to scratch and fight for the victory," U.S. captain Tyler Hildebrand (Mesa, Ariz.) said. "We had to play our best against these guys."

Among the other U.S. players, Max Lipsitz (Williamsville, N.Y.) scored nine points on six kills, two blocks and one ace. Hildebrand, at setter, was credited with one point on a block and 25 running sets on 119 attempts. Carson Clark (Santa Barbara, Calif.) had one point on one ace. Libero Dustin Watten (Long Beach, Calif.) was credited with 19 receptions on 27 attempts and a match-high 11 digs on 43 attempts.

McLaughlin started Tarr and Jablonsky at outside hitter, Lipsitz and Smith at middle blocker, Bittner at opposite, Hildebrand at setter and Watten at libero.

Clark, Brian Thornton (San Clemente, Calif.) and former Gaucho Theo Brunner (Ridgefield, Conn.), played as substitutes.

The U.S. looked sluggish in the first set and fell behind 5-1. Two kills by Bittner, one from Jablonsky and a Smith block tied the score at 5-5, but Mexico used two more kills and a U.S. serving error to lead 8-6 at the first technical timeout (TTO). The U.S. Men pulled to within one point at 10-9 when Mexico scored five straight points on two kills, a block, an ace and a U.S. error to jump ahead 15-9. Mexico continued to lead 16-11 at the second TTO. The U.S. started to settle down and exchange points with Mexico, but many of Mexico's points were being scored on U.S. errors, including three straight serving errors. Mexico reached set point at 24-18. Lipsitz held off the loss with a kill before Samuel Cordova gave Mexico the set win with a block.

The U.S. took an 8-7 lead at the first TTO of the second set, including three Bittner kills, a kill and block from Tarr and a kill by Lipsitz. The teams battled back and forth. Leading 11-10, Team USA gained a small edge on two straight kills by Smith and Lipsitz to make it 13-10 and causing Mexico to call timeout. Team USA held a 15-12 lead when Mexico scored four straight points on a U.S. serving error and three kills in a row, giving it a 16-15 edge. A Lipsitz kill tied the score at 16 and two straight Bittner kills put Team USA back on top at 18-16. Later, with the U.S. leading 20-18, Mexico tied the score on two straight kills. A Smith kill gave Team USA the 21-10 lead, but Mexico used two more straight kills to go ahead 22-21. Mexico lost the lead with a serving error and two straight Bittner kills brought the United States to set point at 24-22. Mexico scored on a kill to pull to within one, but Tarr ended the set with his own scoring attack.

The set victory seemed to unleash the U.S. offense as it came out swinging in the third set, taking an 8-4 lead on three kills from Bittner, one from Smith, one from Tarr, an attack and block by Lipsitz and a block from Jablonsky. Contreras tried to bring Mexico back with a kill, but Tarr responded with two scoring attacks of his own to make it 10-5. Team USA led 16-11 at the second TTO and reached set point at 24-17. A U.S. service error made it 24-18 before Tarr attacked for the set-winning point.

Team USA used three blocks and an attack from Smith and a block by Tarr to take a 5-3 lead in the fourth set. Mexico responded with a kill and then scored the next six points, four on U.S. errors. A Mexico serving error made it 10-6, but two straight U.S. hitting errors and a Mexico block gave it a 13-6 lead. Mexico reached the second TTO with a 16-10 lead. But Team USA was not finished. It scored the next four points on a Mexico error, two blocks from Smith and one from Tarr. Mexico scored to make it 17-14, but two more U.S. attacks by Smith and Tarr brought Team USA to within one point at 17-16. A Contreras kill put Mexico back up by two. But kills by Jablonsky and Bittner and a Lipsitz block gave Team USA the 19-18 lead. From there, the teams battled back and forth. Mexico reached set point first at 24-23, but Jablonsky tied the score with a kill. Mexico went up 25-24, but Tarr tied with another attack. Rangel gave Mexico a third set point with a kill to lead 26-25, but a Mexico service error tied the score again. Finally, Contreras used two straight kills to put the set away for Mexico.

The U.S. built a steady lead in the tiebreaker. It held a 4-2 edge thanks to two kills from Jablonsky and a Bittner block. Still leading by two at 6-4, Team USA scored three straight points on two Smith blocks and a Tarr kill to lead 9-4. Mexico was never able to gain more than one point before losing the serve. The United States reached match point first at 14-8. Mexico scored on a Rangel kill before Mexico's service error ended the match.

By B.J. Hoeptner Evans, usavolleyball.org