Thailand’s lucky seven head off for new challenge following debut season in Azerbaijan
The Thai squad have been competing in a four-a-side invitational tournament in Ningbo, China and they are hoping to use is as a stepping stone in their preparations for this year’s FIVB World Grand Prix, in which they have been drawn against a number of higher-ranked teams, notably, Cuba, Italy, Turkey and Russia.
In 2012 Thailand shocked the likes of Japan, Serbia, Cuba and China on their way to finishing fourth at the World Grand Prix and after catching the eyes of a number of coaches seven of their leading players moved to the Azerbaijani Super League. Now the hope is that those seven can help Thailand repeat their performances of a year ago.
Last October national team captain Wilavan Apinyapong, spiker Onuma Sittirak, setter Nootsara Tomkom, blockers Pleumjit Thinkaow and Amporn Hyapha, universal Malika Kanthong and libero Wanna Buakaew signed year-long contracts with leading side Igtisadchi Baku.
While they were unable to help Igtisadchi Baku to the league title, they enjoyed an impressive maiden season and finished second equal in the league behind the all-powerful Rabita Baku, whose haul of 66 points was 14 more than Igtisadchi.
In the past Thai players have been rewarded for their performances by winning individual honours. Nootsara won the Best Setter Award at the 2012 World Grand Prix, while previously Onuma had won the Best Spiker in the 2009 Asian Women’s Senior Championship in Vietnam, the first Thai player to do so.
It all adds up to greater experience for Thailand, in what is already shaping up to be an important year in their development.