Stuttgart, Germany, June 14, 2018 - Nika Daalderop's stellar effort ensured the Netherlands completed an unbeaten phase five with victory over Germany in the FIVB Volleyball Nations League on Thursday.
Daalderop finished with 18 points to lead the Netherlands to a 3-1 (25-21, 25-16, 24-26, 24-19) win and continue their winning ways ahead of the final phase.
The Netherlands cruised through the opening two sets and overcame a third set stutter to pull out their 12th victory of the VNL. With several mainstays resting, the Netherlands' depth was tested but Juliet Lohuis and Lonneke Sloetjes supported Daalderop with 15 points apiece.
After such an astounding start to the VNL, where they defeated powerhouse Brazil, Germany (5-10) struggled as the tournament progressed and lost all their matches in Stuttgart, where they missed the services of ailed star Louisa Lippmann.
However, Germany provided plenty of cheer for their fans by winning the third set and being highly competitive in the fourth due to the efforts of Lena Stigrot (13 points), while Jennifer Geerties (11 points) had a tough outing but produced flashes of brilliance.
Germany made the perfect start with an ace from Geerties, who continued her excellent fifth phase, to energise local fans hoping for a breakthrough victory after a tough stretch for the hosts. With little on the line apart from tuning up for the finals, the Netherlands came out cold with Celeste Plak misfiring early before producing a high-flying spike to spearhead her team to a 10-7 lead.
There was plenty of intensity in the contest highlighted by a desperate lunge in vain from Daalderop as the teams traded points in an entertaining affair. Some clever work at the net from Marie Scholzel tied the score at 13 apiece as the tense play continued with the Netherlands unable to find their groove until Yvon Belien capitalised on a perfect set to hammer home a put away as the Dutch inched ahead.
An inspired Belien then produced successive blocks to single-handedly attempt to seize the set for the Netherlands. Fuelled by Belien's heroics, Daalderop lifted her output as the Netherlands eventually claimed the stanza in 29 minutes.
High on confidence, the Netherlands were red hot early in the second set forcing angry Germany coach Felix Koslowski to call a timeout in a desperate bid to spark his team. Taking heed of their coach's words, Germany battled bravely but a costly miss from Geerties continued her erratic performance as the Netherlands maintained a buffer. The Netherlands tightened their defence at the net marked by stellar efforts from Lohuis to repel Germany's bid to get back into the contest.
Clever finishing from Plak and Sloetjes ensured the visitors continued to dash the hopes of the fans - although it was a hearty atmosphere inside Stuttgart Arena to symbolise the final stages of the pool phase.
Cunning serving from Femke Stoltenborg stretched the lead further as the Netherlands cruised through the second set and gain a stranglehold of the contest.
Germany started the third set with more gusto and earned a trio of block points as the Netherlands appeared to take their foot off the pedal much to the delight of the home fans who had resigned themselves for an expected straight sets result.
The Netherlands' concentration had wavered as evidenced by several errors from Plak and Germany capitalised with a high-flying Stigrot thundering down a spike to highlight the major momentum swing.
In trademark fashion, Germany's famed mental strength reared as they sensed a way back into the contest but Lohuis engineered a fightback through strong serve to trim the deficit to just one point. A precise spike by Ivana Vanjak gave Germany some breathing space at 21-19 but the Netherlands fought back once again through the stellar serving of Lohuis.
But Germany deservedly closed it out through a miss from the inconsistent Plak to cap off her forgettable set.
After the third set stutter, the Netherlands looked sharper in the fourth as Daalderop landed several heavy blows in a bid to regain the initiative. Lohuis was proving a formidable figure at the net but the Netherlands couldn't pull away from their tenacious opponents who were desperate to get the match into a deciding set.
Acting captain Sloetjes showcased her leadership skills with some timely spikes to give her team some breathing space despite the best efforts of Stigrot who was keeping Germany afloat.
The Netherlands made the right plays at the crucial moments to pull out a hard-fought victory and their attention now turns to the finals in Nanjing starting on June 27.