I already introduced to you some of my favorite Cuban players, Mireya Luis and Taimarys Aguero, in this my previous post about volleyball 101. But allow me to delve deeper into las Cubanas and their team that overwhelmingly dominated the international volleyball scene in the 90's.
Regla Bell, on the right, and Yumilka Ruiz, on the left, were the other starting outside hitters (OH) for Cuba during the 90's. Bell is unusual because she is a left-handed OH when most southpaws are assigned as opposite (utility) hitters. Ruiz took over the starting position of Mireya Luis, and remained with the team until the Beijing Olympics.
Cuba obviously developed their roots from the Russian-school of volleyball: emphasis on power-hitting and kill-blocking to the detriment of the other fundamentals skills. What they lacked in height, they made up for their much-vaunted athleticism: their block and spike reach (how high they could block and spike) were as high, or even higher than those of the tall Russians. The legendary Mireya Luis, all of 5'8 or 5'9, had a spike reach of about 10 ft, and had the Micheal Jordan-esque ability to suspend herself. It was always a beauty to see her approach, jump, and just wait for the ball in mid-air for that spectacular kill.
The legendary Mireya Luis in the 1991 World Cup
Another fundamental difference between the Russians and the Cubans during those times were the emotions they'd show on court. Whereas the Russians would pound the ball, kill after kill, with nary a flicker of response in their faces or body language, the Cubans would rabidly celebrate very point that they made. They were also infamous for their trash talking/actions, staring down or even shouting at their opponents after every spike of block. It wasn't unusual for the Cubans to get a flurry of yellow (warning) cards from the referees in a lot of matches. This behavior soon escalated in the infamous brawl during the semi-finals at the Atlanta Olympics. Cuba faced Brazil, another fiery and emotional team, in a ferocious 5-setter match peppered with screamed insults hurled by both teams across net. At the last point, Mireya Luis almost Marcia Fu in the face with a spike, and as Cubans celebrated with a frenzy, Brazilian captain Ana Mosser approached them from across the net, wagging a finger and saying "Respeto, respeto!" All hell broke loose, as both teams suddenly went for each others' throats. It took a whole bevy of referees, coaches, and supporting staff to provide a buffer between the raging Cubans and the seething Brazilians. The same scene was repeated later that year at the Grand Prix, when Brazilian Ana Paula openly taunted the Cubans at the last point. Regla Torres even ran around the court, trying to find a Brazilian player she could punch in the face. As a result, several players on both sides were suspended in their respective succeeding matches.
1996 semi-finals of the Grand Prix