The women's U.S. National Team Team will defend its Pan American Cup volleyball title June 10-16 in Lima, Peru, in the first tournament of Team USA's 2013 season.
The Pan American Cup, now in its 12th year, consists of 12 teams from NORCECA (North American, Central America and Caribbean Confederation) and CSV (South America Federation).
The tournament serves as a qualification tournament into the 2014 FIVB World Grand Prix. The top four teams from NORCECA and the top placing team from CSV other than Brazil will earn tickets to next year's World Grand Prix.
"Our goal is to win the next point as often as we can," Team USA coach Karch Kiraly said. "Of course we would love to qualify for the World Grand Prix, the biggest annual FIVB event each year. And we look forward to giving some opportunities for younger athletes to play with a USA uniform against other countries."
The U.S. is grouped in Pool A with Argentina, Puerto Rico and Trinidad & Tobago playing at Miguel Grau Coliseum in the suburb of Callao. Team USA opens against Trinidad & Tobago on June 10, followed by Puerto Rico on June 11 and Argentina on Jun 12.
All three pool matches are scheduled to start at 6 p.m. PT. Pool B includes Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba and host Peru. Pool C includes Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic and Mexico.
Kiraly said the team's focus will not go beyond who the next opponent is on the schedule.
"We go into a tournament making as few assumptions as possible," Kiraly said. "The only team we can prepare for is the next one, which will be Trinidad & Tobago. That team will get our sole focus."
Kiraly has selected four outside hitters, three middle blockers, two opposites, two setters and a libero for the Pan American Cup roster.
Hildebrand, Kim Hill, Megan Hodge and Lichtman will serve as the outside hitters for the tournament.
Rachael Adams, Lauren Gibbemeyer and Lauren Paolini have been chosen as the middle blockers, while Nicole Fawcett and Kelly Murphy will be the opposite hitters.
Alisha Glass and Jenna Hagglund will serve as the setters and Kayla Banwarth will be the libero.
"We will certainly learn a lot about this group of athletes," Kiraly said. "2013 is a great year to give more experience to some players who haven't spent as much time in the USA gym, and to see what kind of learners and competitors they are. Our group has been quite engaged so far in this training block, and they've been earning trust in themselves and with each other in the process. We are all immersed in the process of mastery -- it all starts with me, and I have told them that. We are trying to get better each and every day. If people string lots of days like that together, then the level of the whole program is raised, and we care about that deeply."
The U.S. roster averages 24.8 years of age, but eight of the 12 players have at least 12 international matches to their credit.
Seven of the players were part of the U.S. roster that won the 2012 Pan American Cup, including Banwarth, Fawcett, Gibbemeyer, Glass, Hildebrand, Lichtman and Paolini.
Hodge is the only representative from the 2012 Olympic Games silver-medal team, while she and Glass played in the 2010 FIVB World Championships.
Hagglund, Hill and Murphy will be making their debut wearing the U.S. jersey at the senior level.
"I think a big thing (with this particular roster) is how quickly the group can acclimate to travel and competition," Kiraly said. "It's one thing to do it at home, and another to be a professional on the road. We also need leaders who can integrate the whole group, more and less experienced, and make it a smooth blend.
As part of that leadership, Hildebrand will wear the captain bar for the Pan American Cup. Further, the team has formed a player-based leadership council.
"Kristin is a member of our leadership council," Kiraly said. "She is well-respected by her peers, as are the other members of the leadership council in terms of looking out for teammates and being somebody who consistently brings great effort into every training, every rehearsal we have, every scrimmage we have. Kristin genuinely celebrates the accomplishments and successes in her teammates, more than herself. That is something that many on this team admire in a leader."
The U.S. won the 2012 Pan American Cup with a roster comprised mainly of Olympic Games alternates who only days earlier found out they were not heading to London.
Despite the disappointment, the team grouped together and beat out teams such as Brazil and Dominican Republic who had most of their Olympic Games roster competing in the event.
In the gold-medal match, Team USA rallied from two sets down to defeat Brazil 28-30, 18-25, 25-22, 25-21, 15-11 as Hildebrand scored a match-high 35 points en route to being named most valuable player.
In preparation for the 2013 Pan American Cup, the team has been training officially since May 6 with three Red-Blue intra-squad scrimmages mixed into the calendar on three consecutive Fridays.
Kiraly believes the team has progressively improved during the course of the month-long training block.
"The block has gone well," Kiraly said. "Our performance has gotten better with each scrimmage, as we have had more learning taking hold and many of the athletes getting to know each other on the court better. All of that is exciting. There has been lots of great energy at the scrimmages, especially the last two with beyond capacity crowds. It is really good for our athletes to compete wearing a USA jersey under those conditions."