Ekaterinburg, Russia, May 17, 2018 – As Lonneke Slöetjes continues to watch on, Celeste Plak again showed why she is the starting opposite for the world famous orange side right now. Plak top scored again, this time with 18 points against Russia, and put in a dominant attacking display from both front and backcourt. The Netherlands dominated in all of the major statistics from the match, with the exception of the ace count (0-8), but in the only one that matters they won 3-0 (25-22, 25-20, 27-25).
Unfortunately, just as the game got going, it was all over. The third set was actually dominated for the vast majority by Russia, but they eventually allowed the Dutch side to get back into it. The away team may have eventually needed 3 match points to take the victory, but it was the rally that brought up the first of these that got everyone talking. At 23-23 Anne Buijs pulled off one of the defensive saves of the match, if not the tournament, before hitting a powerful line shot with no run up that not only won the point but also floored the setter of Russia.
The Netherlands, who have now won at least one set in each of their last 23 international matches, looked composed and ready for this one. As the previous results have shown they attack from all positions and this match was no different. With the Dutch libero Kirsten Knip dominating the backcourt, the foundations were there for their team to attack from the off. Celeste Plak will rightly take most of the headlines, but this was a real team effort.
Russia do have a dominant record over the Netherlands, but they have now lost the last three times they have faced them. Kseniia Parubets was their top scorer with 45 points before the match and with another 17 points against the Netherlands her importance to the Russian side is even further enhanced.
In what was the best attended match of the week at the Palace of Sports, all were treated to two of the worlds leading teams going toe to toe. Both have aspirations of going far in the Volleyball Nations League, but it is the Netherlands that will move on to Japan the happier. Russia next take to the court against Italy in Suwon, Korea.
With both teams undefeated in the Volleyball Nations League until now, this match was bound to be close, and so proved to be the case in the opening exchanges. One player in particular who had her game face on was Yvon Belien, who despite not serving any aces in the first set, applied the pressure from the service line - so it was fitting that the Dutch middle blocker walked to the service line on set point at 24-22. Her pressing serve was returned with interest by Russia but some amazing diving defence by Celeste Plak set up the Dutch setter Laura Dijkema to spike the winner (yes you read that correctly) and her trademark celebration run around the court followed.
The same trend continued in the second, but one moment that brought all of the home fans to their feet was a point where three diving digs eventually returned the ball over the net only for Russia to kill block Anne Buijs on an overpass attack. However, with the Netherlands dominating things in the middle of the net, soon it was set point and a serving error from Russia brought the second set to an end at 25-20.
It was now or never for the home side as they attempted to avoid the whitewash on their home court and they started stronger than in any previous set. Russian setter Tatiana Romanova served and spread the ball well, allowing experienced wing spiker Irina Voronkova to show her power from the service line as well as at the net. Russia seemed in control at 15-12, but a number of unforced errors brought the Dutch side back into it. One comical point worthy of a mention involved Nicole Koolhaas playing a winning dig from pretty much under the net. From here the world number 8 side tightened their grip and captain Maret Balkestein-Grothues guided the Netherlands home for a straight sets win.