Walbrzych, Poland, June 14, 2018 – Everything was set up for Poland to take three home wins and to go on their longest winning streak for 44 years, but it was simply not to be. The “Queens of the Caribbean” were on top form for the majority, marshalled brilliantly by Niverka Dharlenis Marte Frica to a 3-1 win (25-18, 16-25, 25-21, 25-20). It was known from the start that a place at the Final 6 in China was already impossible for either team, so this match was purely for pride.
Yonkaira Paola Peña Isabel top scored with 19 points and is starting to really stand out for her team, closely followed by her counter-part Brayelin Elizabeth Martinez on 17. But away from the points the entire team can be pleased with how they stuck together and delivered on their game plan tonight.
After the match captain Marte talked of the importance of the win for Dominican Republic as they close the competition on W3-L12. Coach Marcos Kwiek commented that sets were hard to come by for his team earlier in the week but after two yesterday and the three today they leave the competition on a high.
This defeat ends a run of six consecutive wins for Poland and is only the fifth time they have lost at home in their last 17 world level major tournament matches. When they look at the stats tomorrow they will see that everything was pretty much equal between the two teams, except the error count.
Malwina Smarzek was the leading scorer again (with 19 points), but struggled to find her way past a well formed block on this occasion. Natalia Medrzyk put in an impressive display in attack taking 15 points, while Martyna Grajber and their Libero Maria Stenzel did well in holding things together at the back of the court.
With this win the Dominican Republic extend their lead in their overall head to head with Poland to 9-6. While their third win in this inaugural competition gives them the full three points and means they finish 14th on 12 points, while Poland remain on 22 up in 8th.
Dominican Republic dominated the entire first set, excelling through position 4, with Yonkaira Paola Peña Isabel and Brayelin Elizabeth Martinez getting joy from start to finish. The highs of the previous days momentous win over Russia were long gone as Dominican Republic took it to 18 points.
When you have 2,300+ home fans, and in particular Polish fans behind you there is always a chance and it was roles reversed in the second set as the hosts led 19-11. Some amazing defence by Martyna Grajber halted a slight come back but in the end the Polish side pretty much doubled their opponents in the three main areas - 15-8 in spikes, 2-1 for blocks, 2-1 aces.
Whenever it is 1-1 the third set is crucial and an ace from Peña Isabel showed her side meant business. At 6-6 we were treated to a rally that could well be the longest of the tournament. It lasted 48.5 seconds and after some immense scrambling defence from both sides it was finished through the middle by Gabriela Polanska. The players welcoming the replay after that one in order to get their breath back!
Soon it was 14-14 and it was all to play for, but it seems only the travelling side were onto that. At 22-19 the Polish team staff had seen enough and called a timeout, but even that couldn’t stop the slide and soon “Polska” were set point down. Some amazing play in attack and defence by Grajber kept her side in it but eventually the inevitable happened and her side trailed in sets again.
Dominican Republic got off to a blistering start in the fourth and before anyone in the hall knew what was happening it was 8-1 to the “Queens of the Caribbean”. But if one team can go on a run like that then so can the other, and by the time we reached the half way point it was 12-9 – Medrzyk finding the line brilliantly on a number of occasions.
Unfortunately for the neutral that was as close as they got with Marte’s side stretching the lead to five points and staying around that margin until the end when a deflated gym watched Lisvel Elisa Eve Mejia stuff block Poland’s leading lady Malwina Smarzek to take the set 25-20.
Only time will tell if anyone can catch Malwina Smarzek’s massive points total of 361 in the remaining matches, she is currently over 100 clear the rest of the field.
Dominican Republic are the higher ranked team, but based on what we have seen through the round robin phase this result may surprise some. And with that the weekend in Poland came to a close, along with the 2018 Volleyball Nations League for these two teams.