Czechia produced the first surprise of the women’s FIVB Road to Paris Volleyball Qualifiers with a 3-2 win over Dominican Republic on the first competition day in Pool A in Ningbo. Canada also celebrated a rollercoaster five-set victory over the Netherlands, while favourites Serbia and China lived up to the expectations shutting out Mexico and Ukraine, respectively, on Saturday.
Czechia and Canada battle out five-set victories in Ningbo
Favourites Serbia and China live up to the expectations
Published 01:36, 16 Sept 2023
Serbia had total control over the first two sets and did not let Mexico take the lead even for a moment. The third set was different. Mexico managed to break away with a four-point lead early into the set and even after the world champions caught up and took over, the North Americans kept battling to lose by the narrowest of margins.
The Mexicans made fewer unforced errors and scored more aces than the mighty European opponents, but the balance was tilted Serbia’s way in spiking (42 kills against 31) and in blocking (11 stuffs against 3). Four players reached the double digits in scoring for the winners. Outside hitter Katarina Lazovic led the way with 13 points, including two blocks and an ace. Opposite Ana Bjelica also aced once to finish with 11 points, while middle blocker Maja Aleksic’s 11-point tally included four kill blocks. Outside Sara Lozo put away 10 points, while Mexico’s best scorers, Grecia Castro Lopez and Aime Topete Pardo, finished with nine points apiece.
Number 17 in the FIVB World Ranking Czechia delivered the first upset of the Olympic qualifiers, outlasting number 10 Dominican Republic in a hard-fought five-setter. The Caribbean Queens came back from a set down twice in the match, but the Europeans managed to edge forward again in the tie-breaker to celebrate their first win in Ningbo. Each of the five sets was well contested and the lead switched hands at least once in each set.
While the Dominicans were way more prolific in offence with 73 kills against 63 for the Czechs, and scored twice as many aces, four against two, the European side dominated on the block with 15 stuffs against nine and capitalized on as many as 30 opponent errors, while making only 19 of their own. Dominican Republic’s outsides Brayelin Martinez and Yonkaira Pena topped the scorers’ chart of the match with 28 (two aces and one block) and 24 points, respectively. Middle blocker Jineiry Martinez added another 15 points to the team’s tally. Outsides Michaela Mlejnkova (three stuffs) and Helena Havelkova (two stuffs) were Czechia’s most productive players with 21 points each. Opposite Gabriela Orvosova added another 18, including four stuffs.
The battle between the Netherlands and Canada lived up to the expectations and delivered an epic five-set spectacle, in which the North Americans took the upper hand in the tight tie-breaker. The first set alone was an epic duel with the score swinging from four points in favour of Canada to four points in favour of the Netherlands. The Canadians denied two Dutch set points before converting their sixth opportunity to close the set to a 32-30 win. Well in control of the next two sets, the Europeans turned the course of the match around, only to allow their opponents to dominate the fourth and level the match. The Netherlands had a slight lead for most of the fifth set, but after 10-8, the Canadians went on a five-point run. The Dutch caught up at 13-13 after three in a row, but then it was Canada’s turn to take a break point for a victorious ending of the match.
The Netherlands outblocked (14 to 8 in stuffs) and outserved (8 to 1 in aces) Canada, but their opponents made fewer unforced errors (18 to 20) and scored more points in attack (77 to 70). Canadian captain Alexa Gray was on fire delivering a match-high 28 points, including two kill blocks. Opposite Kiera Van Ryk contributed another 19 points, while middle Emily Maglio impressed with four kill blocks towards a 12-point tally. Celeste Plak, with 23 points, was the Netherlands’ most prolific player, scoring 17 attacks, four blocks and two aces. Nika Daalderop added another 21, while middle Indy Baijens piled up five stuffs to finish with 18 points. Her cross-court teammate Juliet Lohuis led the servers with five aces.
The three-set encounter between hosts China and Ukraine was not as one-sided as the final score may suggest. Ukraine recovered from a 6-0 Chinese opening in the first set to take the lead for a while before the home team broke away again. The Europeans were in control during the first half of the second set as well. In the third, the lead changed hands several times before China could close the match in straight sets.
The two teams were equal in attack kills with 42 each, but China’s better blocking (9 to 4 in stuffs), better serving (6 to 3 in aces) and better accuracy (11 to 18 in unforced errors) tilted the outcome their way. Ukrainian opposite Anastasiia Kraiduba was the best scorer of the match with 19 points, including three aces, followed by teammate Oleksandra Milenko with 14 and China’s Li Yingying, whose 14-point tally also boasted three aces, including the match winner. Middle blockers Wang Yuanyuan and Yuan Xinyue raised five and two kill blocks, respectively, towards 12 and 11-point tallies.