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Last year’s VNL finalists in dead heat while Smarzek breaks away in scoring

Poland's Malwina Smarzek in action
Lausanne, Switzerland, May 24, 2019 – The two finalists from last year’s edition, USA and Turkey, are in dead heat again, topping the women’s 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League standings together on completely identical records. At the same time, Dominican Republic’s Brayelin Martinez and Japan’s Yuki Ishii are tied for second place in the scorers ranking, with 2018 preliminary round best scorer Malwina Smarzek of Poland already breaking away with a wide lead again.

United States and Turkey have both won all three of their games in the first competition week, losing one set apiece and each compiling a total of 249 points won against 198 points lost. The only other team that managed to stay undefeated through three legs of play is Italy, who are ranked third on the table, with Indre Sorokaite leading the southern Europeans to victories over Poland, Thailand and Germany.

On Thursday, defending champions USA completed a clean sweep of Pool 2 in Ruse. With 20-year-old Dana Rettke shining on five stuff blocks, the Americans shut out hosts Bulgaria, leaving the VNL rookies without a single win in front of the home fans by the Danube. Coach Karch Kiraly commended the young selection of players, who represented the country in Ruse.

"We are really proud of our team!” he said. “They are working extremely hard and they are getting better each time we play. All the fourteen players are really committed to each other. I am very satisfied with the performance of our young players. They get the opportunity to learn and develop and it’s best for their future. Now we are going to Conegliano where we will have three very tough opponents – Serbia, hosts Italy and the Dominican Republic.”

Belgium, the other challenger team in the pool (next to Bulgaria), achieved an important victory on Thursday - their second of the tournament. 19-year-old Britt Herbots was brilliant again and, with 23 points scored, led her teammates to a 3-1 win over Japan. Yuki Ishii top-scored 20 points for Japan and with a total of 64 for the week ranks among the top three scorers of the competition.

In the Pool 4 “final”, which was to determine who emerges undefeated from the week in Belgrade, Turkey showed more passion on the court to deliver a straight-set upset of world champions Serbia. 19-year-old Ebrar Karakurt led the way with 20 points, despite the efforts of the home team to counteract with young star Tijana Boskovic spearheading the Serbian attack.

After three legs of play, Karakurt tops the best spikers ranking on a success rate of 53.94%. Two more Turkish players are among the current individual chart-toppers – Kubra Caliskan leads the best blockers on an average of 1.1 stuffs per set, while Cansu Ozbay has delivered a per-set average of 5.6 running sets to head the playmakers. Coach Giovanni Guidetti’s squad are expected to perform even better next week, when they will try to please the home crowd in Ankara with more victories - over the likes of Russia, Japan and Germany.

The Netherlands finally managed to register their first win of the season. Having lost to Serbia and Turkey on the first two days, on Thursday the Dutch mastered a 3-0 victory over winless Korea. Juliet Lohuis aced three times on the way to a week total of seven direct points, putting her in first place among the best servers so far.

Next week, from May 28 through 30, the Netherlands will entertain Brazil, Bulgaria and Poland in Apeldoorn.

In a hard-fought match in Opole, Italy emerged with a 3-0 (25-19, 26-24, 27-25) shutout of Germany to remain unbeaten and leave the opponents winless in Pool 1. Libero Beatrice Parrocchiale showed a great effort in defence to take the lead in the best diggers ranking on an average of 2.91 digs per set.

"We won in three out of three games in Poland. It’s incredible!” Italy’s coach Davide Mazzanti exclaimed. “For us it is really important to climb up in the ranking, because we want to play in the Final Six of the VNL. We are very happy with our results, but we know that we have to improve our game. It is fantastic to play in Poland because of the media and fans. People simply love volleyball here!"

Poland’s Malwina Smarzek and Agnieszka Kakolewska in double block against Thailand, with experienced setter Joanna Wolosz watching their backs

The Polish team did not waste the chance to delight the home crowd in Opole by finishing the tournament with a victory. Once again led by their prolific point-maker Malwina Smarzek, Poland mastered an emphatic 3-0 win over Thailand. Smarzek may have registered “only” 19 points against the Thais, but with a week total of 78 she is once again well ahead of everybody else among the top scorers.

On a 2-1 win-loss record, Poland come in fourth in the current standings and the best-placed one among the four challenger teams.

Another challenger team, the Dominican Republic, who had entered the competition in style with huge historic victories over giants Russia and Brazil, continued their fairy tale into the first set of their third game in Brasilia crushing Olympic champions China in a 25-16 landslide. However, last year’s bronze medallists finally put their act together in the next three sets, winning each of them by the same minimal margin, 25-23, to claim a 3-1 victory.

Fang Duan contributed 23 points to China’s success, followed by Yanhan Liu with 21. Libero Li Lin coped well with the opponents’ serving to top the current best receivers chart on a 46% efficiency. Two Dominican players, Bethania De La Cruz and Brayelin Martinez, scored 21 points apiece against the Asian standout, with the latter now placing joint-second with Yuki Ishii (on 64 points each) on the best scorers table.

“Our team is young so it is normal to get some difficulties, but we are happy that we won at last,” commented China’s middle blocker Yuanyuan Wang. “Now our goal is to enhance our skills practicing even more each week until the finals."

China will play at home for the remainder of the 2019 VNL. Next week they host Belgium, Korea and Thailand in Macao.

In the very last match of the first VNL week, Brazil returned to winning ways with a straight-set victory over Russia, improving their record to 2-1. With 17 points to her name, Paula Borgo was the most prolific player of the match.

All VNL matches are available live and on-demand on Volleyball TV.

May 23 – all results:

May 28 – full schedule:


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