BY ANNE-MARIE GARC�A | Special for Granma International
THE Cuban volleyball squad lost its two encounters with Serbia and Montenegro in its home debut playing in the third event of the World Volleyball League.
In the first game (Group C), the new players on the island team showed their claws by winning the first set 25-21, hotting up the atmosphere in the almost overflowing Havana Sports City arena.
The Cubans lost the second set 25-21 but made a surprising recovery with well-aimed spikes by Tom�s Aldazabal and Ariel Gil, to take the third set 25-17.
But Serbia and Montenegro, who were 2000 Olympic Champions as Yugoslavia, recovered their pace, ending the fourth set in a 25-7 tie.
When the moment of truth came, the island’s squad—with an average age of 21 years—could not match the experience of the Europeans and lost by 15-11.
In the second encounter, the host team lost by 3-1. After dropping the first set 25-20, Cuba’s manager Eliseo Ramos replaced passer Javier Gonz�lez with young player Maikel Salas and attacker Yosleider Cala with 17-year-old Osmany Juantorena, who showed great strength against the opposing Olympic champs.
The change was as a good move; Cuba won the second set 26-24 to make it one all.
However, Serbian coach Veselin Vukovic reincorporated captain and passer Nikola Grbic into the side, who reorganized his team to win 25-23 in the third set.
The Europeans sealed the fourth set by 25-21 for the island’s fifth defeat; it only won one game in the first leg of the tournament, which took place in Bulgaria.
“The mistakes in reception we made in the first encounter lost us the game,” commented captain Pavel Pimienta at a press conference at the end of the meet.
Pimienta, 26, also explained that “the team paid for its lack of competitive experience facing a top-level team like Serbia and Montenegro.
“We’re pleased with the way the game developed although we’d hoped to win a competition, but the team is young and inexperienced,” he stressed.
Pimienta, Cuba’s most seasoned volleyball player, commented how he nearly didn’t play because he was recovering from an injury.
“This year we have two main commitments: the Pan American Games in August where we’ll be defending our 1999 title and the World Cup qualifiers in the North and Central American (NORCECA) tournament,” he concluded.
Nikola Grbic, captain and passer of the Olympic winners, made his comments on this first game: “We won and that’s it, but we did have technical and tactical problems, we are not playing as well as before.”
In the other Group C encounters, Bulgaria beat Holland twice: 3-1 and 3-2.
Bulgaria is currently the leader with 10 points and a 4-2 average; followed by Serbia and Montenegro with 10 points and a 4-2 average, but more sets won; Holland is third with nine points and an average of 3-3; and Cuba last with six points and an 1-5 average.