San Juan, Puerto Rico, May 22, 2016 – It was a historic day for volleyball in Puerto Rico as its women’s national team achieved on Sunday something never done before: Qualifying to the Olympic Games.
The members of this team probably will be catapulted to the category of heroines in this small island in the Caribbean Sea with their names indelibly carved in the minds of those who watched them battling for the last berth available to the Rio Olympic Games.
Puerto Rico bt Kenya 3-0 (25-8, 25-23, 25-15)Colombia bt Algeria 3-0 (25-16, 25-12, 25-18)Puerto Rico bt Colombia 3-0 (25-17, 26-24, 25-18)Kenya bt Algeria 3-1 (25-14, 23-25, 25-14, 25-16)Puerto Rico bt Algeria 3-0 (25-10, 25-11, 25-12)Colombia bt Kenya 3-0 (25-14, 25-15, 25-13)
“The 22nd of May will go to the history of the sport in Puerto Rico and the credit goes to all the coaches and support personnel who worked in favor of this achievement, this feat,” said an emotional coach Juan Carlos Núñez following the straight-set 3-0 (25-8, 25-23, 25-15) victory over Kenya on Sunday evening in front of a partisan crowd at Roberto Clemente Coliseum of San Juan.
The wild celebration began even before the first whistle with the fans chanting and dancing in the stands to the beat of Latin rhythms and when the match started they roared and cheered for every point until the conclusion of the actions when Daly Santana sealed the triumph with a bomb from the back court in the third set.
The victory earned Puerto Rico the last ticket available to the 12-team Olympic tournament joining hosts Brazil, China, Serbia, Russia, Argentina, United States, Cameroon, Japan, Italy, Netherlands and South Korea.
Karina Ocasio was the lone Puerto Rican in the well distributed offense with 15 points. Yarimar Rosa, Stephanie Enright and Lynda Morales each contributed 7 points in the victory.
Kenya’s Noel Murambi finished with 12 points in the losing effort while Everlyne Makuto and Bracksides Khadambi added 9 and 8 points, respectively.
“We are going to stop for the next three days to give the players a break but start working again on Thursday and leave to Poland on Monday for the Grand Prix,” Nuñez said. “Now we have to act as Olympians. While I am at the coaching position I will continue pushing. Everybody have to sweat in there.”
Ocasio, who is retiring from the national team after Rio, said to be proud of the achievements but at the same time admitted it is about time to move aside.
“I still can’t appreciate what we have done but we did it at home,” Ocasio said. “I am going to retire because I have a daughter and I want to dedicate quality time to raise her.”
Aury Cruz, the eldest member of the group at 34 years-old and 18 years in the national team, is also giving way to the new breed of talent.
“It is a big achievement,” Cruz said with watered eyes. “After playing in foreign leagues for the past eleven years I have had the chance to play alongside many Olympians and I felt that my career was incomplete.”
Earlier on Sunday, Colombia stormed past Algeria in straight sets 3-0 (25-16, 25-12, 25-18) in the first match of Sunday to keep alive their chances of earning the ticket to Rio. Their hopes vanished away when Puerto Rico won the first set against Kenya.
Colombia finished with a 2-1 win-loss record and Algeria concluded winless. Kenya closed with a 1-2 mark.
Amanda Coneo was the top scorer for Colombia with 9 points, followed by Madeleine Montaño and Melissa Rangel each recorded three aces and both finished with 8 points. Yasmine Abderrahim had a match-high 14 points for Algeria.