Veteran Carol Gattaz was a force for Minas against Barueri (Photo: Orlando Bento/MTC)

Three of the most popular women’s volleyball teams in Brazil, Dentil Praia Clube, Itambe Minas and SESC Volei Bauru claimed the first three spots in the semifinals of the country’s Superliga this week. The final berth will go to either Osasco Sao Cristovao Saude or SESC Flamengo.

After finishing first in the regular season, reigning South American champions Praia kept their pace in the playoffs, eliminating eighth-seeded Pinheiros in the quarterfinals. The four-time Supercup winners did not leave their opponents a chance, winning the first two matches of the best-of-three series in straight sets.

Two of Praia’s international stars, Brayelin Martinez and Anne Buijs led the team in their second win, a 3-0 (25-21, 25-16, 25-17) victory on Monday. The Dominican opposite had a match-high 14 points (13 kills, one block) while the Dutch outside hitter added 12 (ten kills, one block, one ace).

“Although we won the first match 3-0, we didn’t leave the court satisfied with our performance,” said Praia’s setter Claudinha Bueno. “We knew Pinheiros would try to put pressure on us with their serving in the second match, but we handled it well and were able to play at our rhythm. Of course winning is the most important thing at this moment of the season, but we need to be aware of the details that can make a difference.”

Second-placed Minas had a tougher series against a Jose Roberto Guimaraes-led Barueri Volleyball Club. Despite having a roster composed mostly of young players, the team from Sao Paulo took sets off the four-time Superliga winners Minas in both matches, pushing the second encounter to five (22-25, 22-25, 25-20, 25-19, 15-4) on Tuesday.

Turkish outside hitter Neriman Ozsoy was instrumental to the Minas victory with 21 points (20 kills, one block) while Tokyo Olympic silver medallist Carol Gattaz produced 19 (14 kills, four blocks, one ace) for the Belo Horizonte side.

“The most important thing was that we remained focused on the pivotal moments of the match,” commented setter Macris Carneiro, also a Tokyo silver medallist. “We were very aware that we had to work as a team and push each other. That’s the only way we’d be able to turn the match around and that’s how we actually did it.”

Minas’ semifinal opponents SESI Bauru had a less dramatic path to the semifinals. After defeating Fluminense in straight sets in the opening match of the series, the reigning Brazilian Cup winners went on the road and won 3-1 (25-15, 25-20, 22-25, 25-19).

London 2012 Olympic champion middle blocker Adenizia Ferreira was awarded as the Player of the Match with her 13-point (nine kills, three blocks, one ace) performance. American opposite Nia Reed produced 20 (17 kills, three blocks) and was the match’s top scorer.

“We’ve been working hard, talking a lot to fix things and this victory means a lot to all of us,” she said. “We knew that serving well would facilitate our reading of the game when blocking or playing defence. Our coaching staff did a great job in telling us what to do.”

The last series involves five-time Superliga winners Osasco and 12-time national champions Flamengo. The teams split straight-set victories in the first two matches and will meet for a final encounter on Friday.

Flamengo enter the encounter high on confidence after having defeated their rivals 3-0 (26-24, 26-24, 25-14) on Monday on the back of a 17-point performance (16 kills, one ace) by Dominican Olympian Yonkaira Pena.

“The fans were amazing,” Pena commented. “They were our seventh player on the court and gave us a lot of energy to fight for this match.”