The USA clinched two wins from two at the World Grand Prix finals yesterday by smashing the challenge of rising Thailand 3-1.
The defending champions recorded a 25-18 27-25 18-25 and 25-18 victory in less than two hours.
Both teams battled hard from the start, with a serving error by Nootsara Tomkom of Thailand handing USA a narrow 8-7 lead at the first timeout. Cynthia Barboza then struck from the left to extend the lead to 10-7.
Thailand coach Kiattipong Radchatagriengkai called a timeout in a bid to break the momentum, but to no avail. Danielle Scott-Arruda led the US team with two kills to stretch the gap to six points, forcing Kiattipong to call a second timeout in under five minutes. The US team maintained their six-point lead and never looked back.
The second set was more fiercely contested as Thailand boosted their attack with the 1.80-metre Pleumjit Thinkaow manoeuvring the Thais to an 8-6 lead. Then, trailing 16-19, USA’s Megan Hodge hit back with two kills and a block to help her team to a 22-19 lead.
Thailand saved two set points but an unstoppable spike from wing-attacker Tayyiba Haneef-Park won the second set 27-25.
In the third, Thailand reinforced their defence and arrived at the second timeout 16-12 ahead. With the devastating spikes and precise serves of spiker Onuma Sittirak tearing open the US defence at the net, Thailand won the set 25-18.
USA refocused on defence and went 8-5 ahead in the fourth set before Thailand managed to level at 13-13. But their disadvantage over the net raised USA to 16-14.
The US team turned back to attack to enlarge the gap to 23-17 before Haneef-Park earned a match point at 24-18 which was clinched with a Thai error.
“The USA were at 100-per-cent strength,” said Thai coach Kiattipong Radchatagriengkai. “But it’s great to take on the world’s best team.” USA coach Hugh McCutcheon praised the Thai team: “They are a strong volleyball outfit. It wasn’t easy for us to beat them. Earlier yesterday, Turkey outclassed off-form Cuba in straight sets, while hosts China were to take on Brazil in the late match. Today, it’s Thailand v China, Brazil v Cuba and Turkey v USA.