Bendigo, Victoria, June 4, 2016 - Cuba has beaten Australia 3-1 (25-22, 27-25, 18-25, 27-25) in an epic encounter in Bendigo that thrilled the capacity crowd. The Volleyroos were close to extend the game until the fifth set, but were stopped by Cuba's Jennifer Alvarez.
It was Cuba’s first win of the weekend, but it was Australia who seemed more excited for the result, with the inexperienced home side taking a set and holding two set points in another. Two teams who suffered first night losses looked nervous at the start of the match, but the big difference was the power game of Cuba’s Jennifer Alvarez. It was both teams second encounter in World Grand Prix. Back in 2015 Cuba also recorded a victory over Australia, who is yet to claim the first win in the history of World Grand Prix.
Australian coach Shannon Winzer has asked her team to keeping playing offensively, and even though the team was down they continued to take risks. Australia’s most experienced player, Beth Carey, helped bring the team back into the set. But when the set had to be won, it was Cuba who had all the answers.
Australia looked dead and buried early in the second set. Coach Winzer made several rotations, bringing Jen Sadler into the match, and Australia were able to capitalise on several Cuban mistakes to bring themselves back into the match. But Cuban captain Matienzo Linares was dominant at the end of the second set, stringing together several crucial points to give the Cubans a 2-0 lead.
With Australia staring down the barrel at a straight sets loss, the big crowd turned the match around. Since re-joining the Grand Prix circuit Australia has struggled to win sets, but with Rebecca Reeve, given a chance by coach Winzer to make her mark, proving a tough stumbling block for the Cubans, Australia took control in the fourth set. The Volleyroos slipped out to a 20-10 lead, and despite several hiccups, captain Shae Sloane helped steer her team over the line and to bring the stadium alive.
Cuba came out strongly in the fourth set, with Yamila Santas making the most of her time on court, and it looked like order would be restored for the three-time Olympic gold medalists. But Australia was able to seize back the momentum, with Sloane, Reeve and Carey teaming up to give the home side back the lead. At 24-22 it looked like the match was headed to a fifth set, but the Cubans through skipper Matienzo clawed back to level and then seal the set 27-25 and the match 3-1.