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Premier annual women’s tournament ready for take off

Lausanne, Switzerland, June 21, 2005 – Twelve of the best women’s teams around the globe are ready to do battle when the 13th edition of the World Grand Prix begins on Friday.

Olympic champions and World Cup holders China, Pan American Cup winners Cuba, world champions Italy and 2004 winners Brazil headline an all star cast where four teams from Europe, four from Asia, three from Norceca and one from South America will compete in the premier women’s annual event.

It is exciting times for women’s Volleyball. This year’s World Grand Prix is set for a makeover with many sides boasting new, youthful talent with an eye on giving them some big time exposure ahead of the 2006 World Championships just over a year away.
Pic: Brazil beat Italy in last year's final
Nevertheless, the big teams are all expected to feature in what is going to be another exhilarating display of women's Volleyball at its best.

China, for one, has a new look lineup which has already looked ominous claiming pre-season victories. With the 2003 World Cup and Olympic title in their trophy cabinet, the world number one, who finished fifth last year, is definitely one of the hot favourites but with some new blood in the team, they have their goals set on the basics.

"This new Chinese side has been renovated this year with more rookies so the results are not the most important, it is the understanding and improvement in combinations which is what we need right now,” Chinese captain Fen Kuhn, who will be playing in her fifth World Grand Prix, said. “But once again I’m very excited to be playing in the World Grand Prix because it is a chance to compete against the best teams in the world."

Last year’s champions Brazil, have also undertaken some modifications, but their pre-season form warns they will not be giving up their title easily. The world number two has class written all of it despite missing the likes of Virna Dias, Walewska Oliveira, Xavier Arlene and Erika Coimbra and having collected bronze at last year’s Olympics and with the likes of Raquel Peluci Silva and Marianne Steinbrecher still in their ranks, they won’t be giving up their title easily.

Last year’s silver medalists and 2002 World Championship winners Italy are also expected to be there at finals time. While they’re missing some big guns in captain Manuela Leggeri, spiking superstar Elisa Togut, courageous 162cm libero Paola Cardullo, Simona Gioli, Francesca Piccinini and Simona Ranieri, the likes of Jenny Barazza, Nadia Centoni, and Eleonora Lo Bianco remain in the ranks for what looks like a new era for Italian women's Volleyball and coach Marco Bonitta.

World number three USA collected bronze last year and have also undergone some major changes including a new coach “Jenny” Lang Ping, who replaced Toshi Yoshida in February. Some key players from last season are missing including veteran outside hitters Tara Cross-Battle and Keba Phipps, who have retired from the sport, and Logan Tom, libero Stacy Sykora and Heather Bown.

Cuba, ranked 5th in the world, are the hot property in women’s Volleyball at the moment. Young, enthusiastic and exciting to watch, they claimed a shock bronze medal at last year’s Olympics and after winning the Pan American Cup in June, they look as though they are timing their World Championship run superbly.

The first weekend of the Preliminary Round sees Japan, Brazil, Korea and Poland playing in Tokyo, Japan; Italy, Cuba, Gemany and Dominican Republic in Reggio Calabria, Italy and China, Netherlands, USA and Thailand playing in Ningbo, China. Each team plays each other in a round robin format before moving on to another venue for week two of the Preliminary Round. After three weeks of Preliminary Round action, the top six teams will enter the Final Round in Japan to play for the honour of 2005 World Grand Prix champion.

Last year’s finishing order was 1) Brazil, 2) Italy, 3) U.S.A., 4) Cuba, 5) China, 6) Germany, 7) Russia, 8) Poland, 9) Japan, 10) Thailand, 11) Korea, 12) Dominican Republic.