Two weeks into the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Women’s Nations League, we find 5 teams tied at the top as far as win-loss records is concerned at 5-1 — with world number 11 Argentina as the only winless squad at 0-6.
Yet so far aside from the regular powers, three teams are worth watching.
South Korea. If you thought the Koreans just got lucky beating a Zhu Ting-less China, think again. In week 2, they rode their momentum as hosts and blanked world number 5 Russia (25-19, 25-14, 25-17) while beating 13th ranked Germany in four sets (23-25, 26-24, 25-16, 25-16).
Still, what kind of surprised us was their fall against world number 7 Italy where the Koreans lost in straight sets, 17-25, 21-25, 21-25. Part of this was obviously due to not fully using super spiker Lee Jae-yeong (#17) who has truly emerged as a great force but was used sparingly in favor of taller players for blocking purposes. Bad strategy that time and it showed in their loss to Italy (as the taller Koreans on the court were not as quick as the hustling Italians) when utilizing Lee Jae-yeong could have given them a ‘variation’ in offense and quickness in defense at the same time.
Thailand. Their record might be 2-4 but if you have really been watching their games, the Thais could have won a couple more of them like the ones against #5 Russia (week 1, fourth set was even decided at 30-28), #3 Serbia (lost 1-3 but reached 18+ in all lost sets, meaning they were competitive throughout the match) and against #1 China whom they could have even beaten in straight sets (23-25, 24-26, 25-22, 17-25) if only they had power spiker Ajcharaporn especially in the early, critical stages of the second set.
Key points for the Thais. Utilize Ajcharaporn (best spiker) and Nootsara (best setter) especially in critical moments, like when the opponent’s score hits 20, bring them back to court if they were resting. Malika has deteriorated as a spiker, just have her for floor defense, setting up or serving if ever.
While it’s good to have Onuma back, it’s quite noticeable that she can’t really jump anymore, so go to her as 3rd or 4th option instead behind Ajcharaporn, Pimpichaya and Chatchu-on. Meanwhile, Pleumjit still has it as a premier middle blocker, however, continue giving Hattaya more confidence as she would eventually replace Pleumjit when she slows down. It would have helped if Thatdao Nuekjang was around though especially in blocking since she’s tall and strong enough for international competitions.
Poland. Ranked 22nd in the world and in fact the lowest among those participating in this tournament, who would have thought that they could put up a good fight in just about every game they played? In week 1, the Polish may have lost 1-3 to #2 USA but look at the scores — 26-28, 22-25, 25-22, 15-25! Then they beat #7 Italy in 5 sets, 21-25, 25-14, 19-25, 25-17, 15-12 before going down against #12 Turkey 21-25, 17-25, 23-25.
In week 2, the Polish dismantled #1 China in a 5-set marathon then took #3 Serbia to four sets (25-20, 25-27, 24-26, 15-25) before finally losing out to Thailand in another grueling match with the decider ending at 14-16!
Looking closely, #22 Poland actually had a chance to win in all the games they have lost. Thanks to the hard-hitting 21-year-old spiker Malwina Smarzek (#17), they are certainly bound to rise in the rankings very soon.
Get ready for week 3! #enjoyvnl