Croatian women and Cuban men are set to make their first appearances in the Volleyball Nations League in 2023 after they triumphed in this year’s edition of the Volleyball Challenger Cup, which had eight female teams playing in Zadar, Croatia, and eight male squads competing in Seoul, Korea, between Thursday and Sunday.
Croatia and Cuba secure Volleyball Challenger Cup titles
Both teams earn the right to compete in the 2023 Volleyball Nations League
Published 08:38, 31 Jul 2022
The Croatians took full advantage of hosting the women's tournament and won three matches in front of their home fans in Zadar to secure the title. In the gold medal match, the team coached by Akbas Ferhat topped Belgium in four sets (25-20, 21-25, 25-22, 25-21).
Croatian captain and star opposite Samanta Fabris won the scoring battle with Belgian Britt Herbots, leaving the court with 31 points (30 kills, one block) against 23 (21 kills, two aces) for the top scorer of the 2022 VNL.
“It was amazing to do it in front of so many of our fans who came here,” Fabris reacted. “We had our goal, we had our dream and we came here knowing it was going to be hard. But we were ready to fight and earn our place among the best in the VNL. I’m really proud of my team and the coaching staff, but also of the organisers, because everything was perfect. Next year we’re going to be playing against the best teams in the world in the VNL, but for now, we just want to celebrate.”
The third place of the women’s Volleyball Challenge Cup went to Puerto Rico, who defeated Colombia in four sets (27-25, 23-25, 25-23, 25-18). The Caribbeans had four players doing especially well, including opposite Brittany Abercrombie (18 points), outside hitters Marie Victoria (17) and Stephanie Enright (16) and middle blocker Neira Ortiz (15). Colombia’s opposite Dayana Segovia and outside hitter Ana Karina Gamboa were the match’s top scorers with 20 points apiece.
In Seoul, Cuba booked their place in the 2023 VNL with a 3-1 (25-17, 23-25, 25-20, 25-20) victory to claim the men's Volleyball Challenger Cup title with three wins. The Caribbean team won the tournament without three key players including middle blockers Robertlandy Simon and Livan Osoria and outside hitter Marlon Yant, who were all injured. The Cubans had played in both of the two previous editions of the Volleyball Challenger Cup, finishing fourth in 2018 and second in 2019.
Team captain Miguel Angel Lopez led the Cubans to victory in the gold medal match as the 25-year-old outside hitter produced 20 points (16 kills, two aces, two blocks) against the Turkish. Opposite Jesus Herrera added another 19, with 16 kills, two blocks and one ace.
“We’re very excited and honoured that we were able to bring Cuba to the VNL,” Lopez said after the Cuban victory. “It’s the third time we compete in the Volleyball Challenger Cup and this time we were finally able to win it and qualify for the VNL. Türkiye played a very good match, but fortunately we were able to maintain our focus the entire time and that was one of the keys for us.”
Hosts Korea took bronze after a dramatic, five-set (25-19, 25-16, 24-26, 23-25, 22-20) victory against the Czech Republic. Korean opposite Donghyeok Im led all scorers with 33 points (28 kills, four aces, one block), followed by Czech opposite Marek Sotola, who produced 22 (20 kills, two blocks) for his side.