July 21, 2003 - The Chinese women's volleyball team will certainly try their utmost during the World Grand Prix, which starts on Monday in Italy but head coach Chen Zhonghe said his team will be looking to use the women's premier annual event as a launch pad towards a top three finish at the 2003 World Cup in November in Japan.
"We've got two jobs to do at the Grand Prix," Zhonghe said before leading his side into their opening match against Canada at 16:00GMT on Monday. "The first is to further shape up the team and get prepared for the World Cup and the second is for me to observe the performance of some of the younger players".
Though Chen would not predict the results for China at the Grand Prix, he was wary of the opposition. "There is no weak team at the Grand Prix and Russia, Italy, USA and Brazil are especially strong. We will take every game as a battle," he said.
China, who beat Russia in the Montreux Master Women's Volleyball Tournament before losing to them in the President Cup final, will play Russia in the preliminary round of the Grand Prix. "Russia put great pressure on us with their attacking and blocking, their players are more experienced than ours.
"It is important for us to show our strength and perform to our best. Technically speaking, we should pay more attention to the time and rhythm of blocking."
"We have been trying to improve our defense, especially blocking. Our blocking was not successful in the recent games against Russia."
Chen made minor adjustments to the squad that won the Swiss International Tournament and finished runners-up to Russia at the Russian President Cup in June. Spikers Zhang Yuehong and Chen Jing replaced Zhang Jing and Liu Xiaojia and Libero Zhang Na replaced Li Ying. "I made the changes because I wanted to give more players opportunities to show their abilities and I will see who are more suitable to play the World Cup."
"The World Cup is the most important tournament for us this year and all we do before that is to get prepared as well as possible for it."
Chen was confident that China would make the top three in the World Cup and secure themselves a berth in the Athens Olympics volleyball tournament in 2004. "We will strive for a medal in the World Cup and a ticket to the Athens Games. I am fully confident in our girls," said Chen, who has been with the women's national team for more than two decades but took over as head coach in 2001.