Netherlands coach Giovanni Guidetti talks to his players
Lublin, Poland, July 28, 2015 - Six exciting weeks in the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix are set to draw to a close with one final highlight: the Group 2 finals in Lublin, Poland. Just days after hosts USA claimed the title at the annual showdown between the top women’s volleyball teams in the world, the race is now on for promotion to join the teams at the pinnacle of ladies' volleyball in 2016.
The Group 2 Final Four favourites on Saturday and Sunday are arguably the Netherlands. The Dutch have won all six of their preliminary round matches.
“We haven’t won anything yet. We have to give all we have in the Final Four,” said Dutch captain Maret Balkestein-Grothues. Her team is hungry for a return to Group 1, which features the world’s best teams. After all, the Netherlands did win the FIVB World Grand Prix back in 2007.
Giovanni Guidetti was employed as the new coach ahead of this season with a view to achieving this major goal and a medal at the European Championship on home soil (from September 26 to October 4). The Italian, who guided Vakifbank Istanbul to the title at the FIVB Volleyball Women’s Club World Championship, relaxed ahead of this weekend's stressful tournament at a very special concert.
The Netherlands go into the first semifinal on Saturday as the hot favourites. They defeated their opponents the Czech Republic 3-1 in the preliminary round. However, Czech coach Carlo Parisi is hoping for an improvement from his team: “We will improve in the final round. I’m happy and I want my team to take courage for the future.”
Many experts anticipate a “dream” final on Sunday, between the Netherlands and hosts Poland. Incidentally, the Dutch won this duel 3-0 in the preliminary round. However, for this rematch to occur, the Poles must first overcome Puerto Rico in the second semifinal – by no means an easy task. When these two countries clashed in the preliminary round, the only non-European team in the Final Four came out on top, winning 3-1.
Puerto Rico travel straight from the Pan American Games in Toronto, where the team finished fourth after almost defeating Olympic champions Brazil in the semifinals.
Puerto Rico’s outstanding player was Karina Ocasio, whose 110 points made her the tournament’s top scorer. She was also the number one hitter in the World Grand Prix preliminary round, with 123 points to her name. For hosts Poland to have any chance of progressing, they must first find a way to control this point-scoring machine.
However, there is great optimism among the hosts – as Jacek Kasprzyk, Vice President of the Polish Volleyball Federation, revealed: “Polish women's volleyball has great potential. I am convinced our national team will take another step on the road to becoming European leaders in Lublin.” The majority of the tickets for the largest volleyball spectacle in the history of Lublin have already been sold, meaning the Poles can look forward to great support.
New coach Jacek Nawrocki and returning star Katarzyna Skowrońska-Dolata have already celebrated a first success this year. At the European Games in Baku, Poland’s women won the silver medal. “That was just the first step. We will obviously be trying to win the Final Four in the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix,” said coach Nawrocki. “This team needs to play more international matches in order for our players to improve.”
The FIVB World Grand Prix is exactly the right place to hone those skills: the 23rd staging of the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix includes 28 teams for the second time, and runs from June 26 to August 2, 2015. The FIVB World Grand Prix has grown spectacularly since it was first held in 1993, when it featured just eight teams. The increase in the number of participating teams brings with it an increased level of competition and has also helped to spread the World Grand Prix to new territories around the world. This year, Group 3 winners Kenya became the first African team to win a final.