All they wanted to do was get better each time they took the court. The United States women's national volleyball team reached that goal, and more.
Stanford grad Logan Tom and tournament MVP Destinee Hooker combined to score 14 points in a convincing third set victory and the second-ranked Americans successfully defended their FIVB World Grand Prix title, knocking off top-ranked and previously undefeated Brazil, 26-24, 25-20, 25-21, Sunday in the championship match in Macau before 4,600 fans.
Each of Team USA's four titles have been won on Chinese soil as the Americans gained some revenge after losing to Brazil in four sets on Friday in the final game of the preliminary rounds.
"The goal we had in this entire tournament was to get better as a team and I think we did," U.S. team captain Jennifer Tamas said. "We are very fortunate and very excited to be here. We are just extremely happy for the progress we made. Macau has been great. The fans were amazing, they really supported our team, so thank you so much for having us, and it was delightful to return to Macau for the Final Round after 2001 and win the champions trophy."
Brazil dominated all the statistical departments through the semifinals despite missing a handful of key players. The Americans' defense was up to the challenge this time.
"It is always a challenge to play Brazil; they are the best team in the world," U.S. coach Hugh McCutcheon said. "We had to play with a lot of discipline, focus on trying to work together and stick to the game plan."
Brazil (177-48 all-time) won five of the previous seven titles and was also the runnerup to the U.S. (113-85) last year in Ningbo. The Brazilians still own the overall series with the U.S., 9-6.
It was the first time the Americans won back-to-back titles in the event, grabbing the $200,000 winner's share of the $1.74 million prize money.
"Our team performed very well. I am very proud of them, not just for the victory but in every match played throughout this long tournament," McCutcheon said. "We kept making improvements. It is good for us to see that we could perform at our best when the best is needed."
Hooker led the U.S. with 16 points on 15 kills and a block. Tom added 12 kills, a block and an ace. Cardinal grad Foluke Akinradewo had six kills and a block.
The U.S. opened the first set with a 9-3 lead, only to have Brazil rally to take the lead at 18-17. The Americans came back from a 21-20 deficit to win 26-24 as the set was tied eight times down the stretch.
After 13 ties through 15-all in the second set, the U.S. broke away with a 4-0 run taking a 19-15 advantage and went on to win 25-20 as Jordan Larson contributed five kills in the late stages.
The U.S. used a 6-0 scoring run to take a 9-4 lead and stretched the advantage to 17-10, but Brazil fought back to within two points at 22-20 to make the Americans fight for the 25-21 victory. Tom scored eight of her 14 points in the third set.
Lindsay Berg produced 19 assists on 86 set attempts as the Americans converted 38.7 percent of their attacks into points with a .311 hitting efficiency (46-9-119) and only nine attack errors. Brazil converted just 32.5 percent of its attacks with a .211 (37-13-114) hitting efficiency.
Nicole Davis added 16 excellent receptions on a team-high 35 service receptions.
The USA had an 8-2 advantage in blocks, along with a 46-37 kill margin. Brazil claimed a 4-2 edge in aces, along with a 15-6 advantage in digs.
Hooker finished the FIVB World Grand Prix Final Round with 101 points for second in overall scoring. She totaled 90 kills, eight blocks and three aces.
Hooker was the fourth-ranked Best Spiker with a 42.1 kill percent (90 kills on 214 attacks), 11th in Best Blocker with 0.44 blocks per set and 13th in Best Server with 0.17 aces per set.
She led the U.S. women in scoring in four of the five matches during the Final Round, which consisted of three pool play matches, the semifinals and medal matches.
Hooker is the second straight American to win the FIVB World Grand Prix most valuable player award, joining Akinradewo.