Team USA opened the North American & Caribbean (NORCA) Championships yesterday with a big come from behind 28-26 victory over hosts Puerto Rico. The match did not start out well for the U.S. with Puerto Rico taking advantage of several U.S. miscues on offense to surge to a 17-11 lead at the half.
The second half, however, was an entirely different story as the U.S. started the half with 2 quick scores from backcourt player Nicole Andersen. This triggered a 9-2 scoring blitz and a 20-19 lead for the U.S. The U.S. then extended their lead to 24-21. Puerto Rico fought back to tie the score 24-24, but the comeback was squashed when veteran Sarah Gascon stopped a fast break with a timely charging call and followed it up immediately on offense with a forced 7 meter penalty shot.
Kathy Darling led the U.S. scoring attack with 7 goals and Nicole Andersen added 6. Zoe Lombard, Jence Rhoads and Amy Butler had 3 a piece. Rounding out the scoring was Julia Taylor, Sarah Gascon and Shani Levinkind with 2 each. Nathalys Ceballo led Puerto Rico with 7 goals.
The U.S. continues with Group play matches tonight against Greenland and Saturday vs the Dominican Republic. There are 4 teams in the tournament and all 4 teams will advance to the semifinals on Sunday with the 1st place team playing the 4th place team and the 2nd place team playing the 3rd place team. On Monday the semifinal winners will play for gold while the semifinal loser will play for bronze. More importantly the 3rd place match will also be a qualification match for the Pan American Championships later this summer with the winner advancing and the loser staying home.
On Demand Video of Match: Link
Note: Except for the finals (gold and bronze medal matches) only matches with hosts, Puerto Rico will be streamed. This means that the U.S. matches between Greenland and the Dominican Republic will not be available for viewing and that the U.S. semifinal match on Sunday will be streamed only if the U.S. plays Puerto Rico. The Final match on Monday should be available regardless of who the U.S. plays.
Analysis: The U.S. and Puerto Rico have significantly contrasting styles. Puerto Rico is a smaller, quicker team that excels when the pace of the game is fast with lots of transition fast breaks. The USA is taller and has consistently shown that they can play solid defense in a half court setting. Where the U.S. has often struggled, however, is with inconsistent backcourt play on offense leading to limited offensive output and too many turnovers.
In the first half the pace of play definitely favored Puerto Rico. With too many turnovers by the U.S. leading to fast break opportunities. In the second half, however, the backcourt tandem of Kathy Darling and Nicole Andersen started to click more effectively resulting in more consistent scoring and fewer turnovers. With fewer fast break opportunities Puerto Rico was forced to score in a set offense where they were stifled by the U.S. defense which was further backed up by strong play by goalie Bryana Newbern.
This was a promising win for the U.S. which now has two more group play matches to further integrate newcomers based in Europe into a core group of veterans that has played together longer.