In Focus: Dominican Republic women's team
Tokyo, April 24, 2006 -- No one will be better prepared for the FIVB World Championships in Japan this year than the ambitious women's team from the Dominican Republic.

Drawn in Pool B with giants China and Russia, as well as Germany, Mexico and Azerbaijan, Dominican Republic will settle for nothing less than a place in the second round...and may be able to achieve more judging by their busy schedule.

Between now and the start of the Worlds on October 31, Dominican Republic will play competitions or hold training camps in Cuba, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Colombia, France, Poland, Macau, Japan, Mexico and China.

So, when the World Championships come around, they will be fully match-fit and finely tuned as they bid to improve on their highest finishing place of 11th in Japan in 1998.

"We have a good mix of veterans and young players and my expectations are very high," says coach Beato Miguel Cruz.

"I am a strong believer in hard work and I expect good results from it.

"There are no small teams or big teams, so let the performance on the court decide the outcome during this important quadrennial event."

Cruz is the first Dominican to coach the team for 12 years, but is not new to the environment. He has been the technical director of the national federation and his experience includes coaching the men's national team for several years.

This will be the fifth time for the current Pan American Games queens to take part in the World Championships. They finished 21st in Mexico in 1974, 19th in Moscow in 1978, 11th in Japan in 1998 and 13th in Germany four years ago.

One of six teams to qualify from the Norceca continental zone, the 11th-ranked Dominicans have consistently dominated the 28th-ranked Mexicans and have also recorded victories over Germany (16th) and Azerbaijan (19th). They beat Germany 3-2 during the World Grand Prix stop in Hong Kong last July.

Coach Cruz has the pick of some extremely talented players, none more so than Annerys Vargas, who has developed into the "lethal weapon" of the Dominican team. The 1.94-metre Vargas was the most dominant player in the Puerto Rican League this season with the Bayamon Cowgirls. She combines spiking and blocking skills, and the World Championships will be the perfect stage to catapult her into the volleyball big time.

Evelyn Carrera is a model of consistency and has gained international recognition as one of the best liberos in the world. The veteran Carrera was the second best libero at the Athens Olympics in 2004 and was elected top of her class during the 2003 Pan American Games, the 2002 Central American and Caribbean Games and the 2006 Puerto Rican League.

The captain of the squad is Milagros Cabral, and power is the name of her game. She has been on the international scene for the past few years exhibiting her powerful spikes in the leagues of Italy, Russia and Puerto Rico. Completely recovered from Achilles tendon surgery, she is back in top condition. Her career honours include the MVP award of the II Pan American Women's Cup in Saltillo, Mexico, in 2002, and she was selected to take the oath on behalf of the athletes during the opening ceremony of the 2003 Pan American Games.

The Dominicans' rising star is Cindy Rondon, a product of the national development programme who is currently playing in Italy's Serie A-1. The 17-year-old Rondon is a member of the Dominican Juniors and took part in the Under-20 Women's World Championships in Turkey. She owns a powerful serve and is a skilful all-round athlete with great blocking ability.

Training and official competitions:

# Olympiad of Cuban Sport, with teams from Russia, Bulgaria, Mexico, Venezuela and Cuba. April 28-May 28.

# Training base at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with the Brazilian team in preparation for the Fifth Women’s Pan American Cup. June 2-18.

# Fifth Women’s Pan American Cup in Puerto Rico, with participation of twelve teams from NORCECA and South America. June 27-July 8.

# Twentieth Central American and Caribbean Games in Cartagena, Colombia, where they will be the defending champions. July 14-30.

# Training base at Bagnoles de Lome, Normandie, France, with the French team. August 1-7.

# World Grand Prix with preliminary rounds in Poland, Macau and Japan against Poland, USA, Italy, China, Brazil and Japan. August 16-September 10.

# Copa TV Azteca in Tijuana and Mexicali, Mexico, with teams from USA, Cuba, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Peru and Mexico. September 22-30.

# World Women’s League in People’s Republic of China with teams from Cuba, Germany, Korea, Bulgaria, Italy, Poland and China. October 14-22.

# 2006 World Championships in Japan. The Dominican Republic will take part in Pool B against Russia, China, Germany, Mexico and Azerbaijan. October 31-November 16.

1) The Dominican Republic women's national team pose for a group photo.

2) Cindy Rondon is one to watch for the future.

3) Annerys Vargas is the Dominicans' "lethal weapon" who can excel on the World Championships stage.

4) Libero Evelyn Carrera is a model of consistency.

5) Flying high...that's captain Milagros Cabral

6) Former men's team coach Beato Miguel Cruz is now in charge of the women's team.

7) The Dominicans practise their blocking.

(Jeremy Walker)