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Saturday, August 28, 2004
Cuba cruises in four sets

Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Though its Olympic-record streak of three straight volleyball titles was over, Cuba played Saturday like it deserved another gold.

A hard-hitting, high-jumping attack led by Nancy Carillo de la Paz and Zoila Barros Fernandez sparked the Cubans to an easy victory over Brazil in the bronze medal match, 25-22, 25-22, 14-25, 25-17.

"Even though we won the bronze, it feels like winning the gold," Barros Fernandez said. "Our team is very young, and we have plenty of time to win more medals."

Cuba won each of the last three Olympic tournaments, but several stars have since retired and the transition hasn't been all that smooth.

Still, four players remain from the 2000 team -- Yumilka Ruiz Luaces, Ana Ivis Fernandez Valle, Marta Sanchez Salfran and Barros Fernandez -- and there's clearly plenty of spunk left over.

When Carillo de la Paz killed match point with a spike at the middle of the net, Sanchez Salfran did a high-step, stationary sprint and spread her arms wide in celebration as a group hug ensued. Barros Fernandez rushed out to jump on the top of it.

"We are very happy," Ruiz Luaces said, "and we are very proud."

Ana "Bia" Chagas had 23 points for Brazil, which lost to Cuba in the semifinals in each of the last two Summer Games but recovered to win the bronze both times.

The second-ranked team in the world, Brazil fell behind 6-1 in the fourth set, cut Cuba's lead to 15-12 and then faded, succumbing to several hitting errors in the final stretch.

"The team in front of us was not the team we know," Cuba coach Luis Felipe Calderon Biet said.

After blowing leads in each of the last three sets during a five-set semifinal loss to Russia, the Brazilians weren't happy about playing for third place.

"We couldn't digest the loss against Russia, and we brought that bad feeling into the game," coach Jose Guimaraes said.