The United States matched all the offensive firepower Cuba had to offer and will leave Quebec with a gold medal and a berth to the 2017 U21 FIVB World Championship.
Stanford outside attacker Jordan Ewert had a tournament-high 18 kills as the U.S. Men’s Junior National Team defeated Cuba 25-17, 29-27, 19-25, 25-22 in the NORCECA Continental Championship gold-medal match on Sunday in Canada.
With this victory, the United States (4-0) qualified to the World Championship for the seventh consecutive time and earned the lone NORCECA automatic bid to the top international tournament. It is also the first time the United States went undefeated in NORCECA play since last winning the bi-annual event in 2012.
Long Beach State Freshman All-American setter Josh Tuaniga guiding the offense in the finals helped all five other U.S. starters finish with more than five kills against previously undefeated Cuba (4-1).
Ewert was one of two U.S. players to have double-digit kills with Long Beach State Freshman All-American opposite Kyle Ensing adding 15 kills. In addition, UCLA outside attacker Dylan Missry had nine kills, while UC Irvine middle attacker Scott Stadick and Princeton middle attacker George Huhmann each had six kills.
Both the United States and Cuba entered the championship match leading all teams in the tournament with more than a .400 attack percentage.
Cuba had three players finish with double-digit kills, including opposite Jose Romero Gonzalez who had a team-high 16 kills in the loss.
The United States out-blocked Cuba 11 to 4 — the first time Cuba was out-blocked in the tournament. Ensing led all players with four blocks and Stadick and Missry each contributed multiple blocks.
The United States never trailed in the fourth game and late in the game had back-to-back blocks to extend its lead to five points. Cuba would cut the lead to two points, but a setter dump kill from Tuaniga and a Cuban serving error secured the U.S. victory
Cuba facing elimination in the third game jumped out to an early lead and had a multiple-point lead throughout the game. In addition, three Cuban players already had double-digit kills by the end of the third game.
The third-game loss also ended the U.S. streak of winning 11 consecutive games to open the tournament.
The United States trailed by as many as seven points in the second game before rallying to tie the score 22 and eventually took the lead. However, Cuba was able to overcome a U.S. game-point and force overtime.
U.S. coach Jay Hosack in the overtime after Cuba scored to set-up a game-point was issued a yellow card for delay of game. Hosack received his first yellow card of the tournament following the officials denying his request to call a timeout.
The United States responded to the controversial call by fighting off the game-point and then won the eight-point overtime to take a two-game lead.
Ewert led the United States with 11 kills through the first two games.
The United States’ eight-point victory in the opening-game was the first time Cuba not only lost a game in the tournament but that a team scored more than 20 points in a game against the defending champions.
This is the third time in the last four U21 NORCECA Continental Championships that the United States won the gold medal. In addition, it is first time the United States defeated Cuba in a gold-medal match in the tournament’s history.
Despite the loss, Cuba still has a chance to earn a berth to the World Championship based on its FIVB World Ranking.
Cuba was ranked No. 11 in the latest FIVB World Rankings released in September, while the United States was at No. 14.