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Sloetjes shines brightest as Dutch edge Belgium in thriller

 

Toyota, Japan, May 22, 2018 - Lonneke Sloetjes produced a brilliant all-round performance to lead The Netherlands to a heartstopping 3-2 (21-25, 25-19, 23-25, 31-29, 15-10) win over Belgium in a sensational start to Week 2 in the inaugural women's FIVB Volleyball Nations League on Tuesday.


Sloetjes finished with 26 points, including 21 spikes from 49 attempts, as well as three vital blocks as the Dutch survived a match point to stretch their unbeaten run in the competition to four matches after winning each of their three games in Russia last week.

Outside hitter Anne Buijs also had a superb match, finishing with 20 points after The Netherlands saved a match point in the fourth set to beat their European neighbours in a classic match that lasted 2 hours 17 minutes.

Kaja Grobelna scored a game-high 28 points for Belgium while Britt Herbots racked up 22 points in another impressive performance from the teenage wing spiker but their combined tally of 50 points was not enough to get the Yellow Tigers over the line.

Ranked five places ahead of Belgium on the world rankings and in great form after finishing 3-0 in Week 1, The Netherlands went into the match as slight favourites but had to produce their absolute best to overcome the Yellow Tigers.

With middle blocker Marlies Janssens (7 blocks) providing stiff resistance at the net and Grobelna, Herbots and Celine Van Gestel (13 points) starring in attack, Belgium looked all set for victory after carving out a hard-earned 2-1 lead.

After trailling for most of the fourth set, the Yellow Tigers drew level and had a match point at 29-28 but with the athletic Buijs taking control, the Dutch survived and reeled off three points in a row to force a deciding fifth set.

The crowd at Sky Hall were treated to an nailbiting encounter as the teams went for broke in the fifth set, diving all over the court as every point was hotly contested, with many decided by thrilling rallies and monster blocks as the tension escalated.

Dutch wing spiker Maret Balkestein-Grothues was heavily involved and finished with 14 points as the Netherlands finally got in front for the first time before pulling clear late in the fifth set while Yvon Belien and Celeste Plak, who was substituted after the third set, each scoring 10 in an all-round team effort.

Belgium's next match is against the Pool 5 hosts Japan on Wednesday while The Netherlands face the USA.

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