Germany prevents all-Russian women’s final in Anapa
In the final they will meet Russia’s top seeded Evgenia Ukolova and Ekaterina Khomyakova, who booked a tough 2-1 (21-23, 21-19, 15-6) against USA’s Heather Hughes and Kaitlin Sather Nielsen.
Mersmann (23) and Schneider (22) had a nervous start against Prokopeva and Popova. They were trailing most of the first set until they equalled at 16-16. Russia made a lot of mistakes serving and the German girls grabbed the opportunity and won the first set.
“I was very nervous throughout the game”, Mersmann said. “We did not have a good start, I had problems with my side-out. I didn’t know what to do, because the blocking of the Russian team was very aggressive and I could not find my rhythm.”
“But in the middle of the first set we changed our setting tactics and we turned the game around and won the set. That was the first time I really believed we could reach the final.”
But at the end of the second set it was Russia who came back from behind. “We were so near that I got nervous again and made a lot of mistakes”, Mersmann said. At 18-18 Germany took a time-out to settle their nerves and Schneider secured the final after all at their first set point with a dink, following a long rally.
“This is crazy”, said 22-year old Schneider, who already won a gold medal this year at the U23 World Championships with Victoria Bieneck. “But the level here is so much higher. If someone would have told me that I would play in the final, I would have said never. Because it is our first international tournament and we don’t have a clue what happens here.”
Ukolova and Khomyakova struggle but survive
Russia’s Ukolova and Khomyakova already own FIVB gold, silver and bronze. All three medals were collected at the end of last year. Two weeks ago they also won gold at the Universiade Games in Kazan, but having had no rest for over a month is beginning to show on court. The Russians were not able to close the first set despite three set points.
“We had some miscommunication about the tactics”, Ukolova said. The second set was not easy either. “I think the USA team in the second they were more relaxed and confident after winning the first. It was not easy to make our side-out because they served strong. And it was quite hot outside.”
At 16-17 the Russian team asked for a medical time-out because Khomyakova was near to a heat stroke. It turned out to be the break they needed because afterwards they were able to close the second set with an ace at 20-19.
In the tiebreak all the American fighting spirit was gone and with the help of the audience Ukolova and Khomyakova won the match after all. “The support is very nice, it’s easier to play when you have this. It’s like a third player on the court”, Ukolova said.