2021 Women's VNL: Questions asked and questions answered
The ins and outs, highs and lows after 124 matches of top-class volleyball
Published 11:51, 28 Jun 2021
And what a restart it's been!
One hundred and twenty-four matches later we have all the answers:
Can USA get the hat-trick with a third title in as many editions of the VNL?
Yes they can!
USA have dominated the women's competition at the VNL since the inaugural edition, winning the first two finals in absolutely nail-biting five-setters - outlasting Turkey in 2018 and coming back from two sets down to beat Brazil in 2019.
And they did it again against Brazil in 2021 - this time coming back from a set down to take the final in four.
USA sailed through the round-robin phase of the 2021 competition with a 14-match winning streak before falling in their very last match to China - though by then it was of no consequence for either team.
They then knocked out Turkey in straight sets in the semifinals, before taking Brazil in the final.
Can Malwina Smarzek be the top VNL scorer for a third time?
No. The 24-year-old Polish opposite who had dominated the scoring in epic fashion at both previous editions of the VNL was overshadowed this year both inside her own team by Magdalena Stysiak and overall in the tournament by Belgium's Britt Herbots.
The 21-year-old Belgian topped the scoring chart of the 2021 VNL with 337 points - though not quite reaching the heights of 361 from 2018 and 421 from 2019 of Smarzek.
Herbots made four personal entries in the list of players to have scored 30 points or more in a single VNL match - though that too falls short of Smarzek's record ten entries from 2018 and 2019.
And Smarzek also continues to hold the all-time VNL scoring record of 42 points in just four sets when Poland beat Bulgaria in 2019 in Apeldoorn. The highest score this year was registered by China's Zhang Changning with 37 points against Belgium.
VNL top scorers by edition
Will the serving and blocking VNL records be smashed?
Going into the 2021 VNL, Poland's Agnieszka Kakolewska and Brazil's Adenizia 'Ade' da Silva jointly held the record of most blocks in a single VNL match - nine, both dating from the inaugural edition of 2018.
Belgium's Marlies Janssens matched that record with 9 blocks in five sets against China, so now there's three players sharing the all-time VNL high.
And Erdem alongside Italy's Paola Egonu and Indre Sorokaite, and the Dominican Republic's Bethania de la Cruz have each served a record seven aces in a single VNL match, dating from 2018 and 2019.
This record still stands, though two players shared the best single-match serving performance of the 2021 edition. Carol da Silva served 6 aces in just three sets when Brazil beat Russia and Janssens also scored six times - though in five sets - as Belgium edged Italy.
Who are the budding stars of the future that will leave their mark on this year's VNL?
This year's VNL featured a mix of experienced squads and a host of youngsters out to prove themselves and leave a mark on international volleyball.
When the final count was in, experience did actually trump youth, with all four teams in the medals round fielding squads of well-established players who defined the outcome of the 2021 VNL.
And Carol Gattaz, at almost 40 the oldest player in the tournament, was instrumental in Brazil's run through the 2021 VNL for silver medal. She was personally awarded with a place on the Dream Team of the competition as one of the best middle blockers alongside Erdem.
However, there were numerous standout youngsters that are guaranteed to thrill volleyball fans for years to come.
And the whole of the Serbian squad, on an average age of 21, started the tournament with remarkable aplomb bringing down such powerhouses as China and pushing others such as Turkey to their limits.