Walbrzych, Poland, June 12, 2018 - Russia preserved their longest unbeaten run (14 matches) against any nation by downing the Dominican Republic in straight sets 3-0 (25-21, 25-20, 25-16). Secured in large parts by the serving of their captain Ekaterina Lyubushkina and their powerhouse Irina Voronkova through the wings. After the match Voronkova expressed her delight at getting back into winning ways but knows there will be sterner tests to come, this weekend and beyond.
Pankov Vadim’s side may have lost all three games in the last round of matches, but that was not evident as this win takes them to position 7 and a VNL record of W7-L6. In a rare situation for a winning team, no player reached double figures in points, with Anna Kotikova Olga Biryukova and captain Lyubushkina all scoring 9. Kotikova noticeably playing her way into the starting team for the 3rd set after some impressive scoring off the bench in the first two.
With the Dominican Republic not registering any aces (compared to the 5 scored by Russia), and 74% of their serves being able to be passed to the preferred setting position the signs are there that the service pressure for the losing side was not tough enough. Russia also nearly doubled the attack points of their opponent (43-26).
Dominican Republic have now lost their last 5 matches (W2-L11) and it proved an uphill battle for the “Queens of the Caribbean” throughout. A special mention must go to Brayelin Elizabeth Martinez, as she passed the 200 VNL points mark (now on 208 points), who proved she is so much more than a points finisher, spectacularly keeping the ball in play on a number of occasions.
Russia dominated this match from start to finish, despite having a team that in terms of average appearances for their country was vastly less experienced - 21 caps compared to 116. They will be learning with every match and tomorrow take on hosts Poland at the Hala Widowiskowo-Sportowa, while Dominican Republic will face Japan earlier in the day.
The first set was all about momentum with both sides scoring points in bursts. However whenever it mattered it was the Russian side who were in the lead. They led 16-14 before accelerating to secure a lead of 22-16, but back came the “Queens of the Caribbean” again. It turned out to be too little to late though as Russia’s Irina Voronkova found the court to secure the set 25-21.
The trend continued in the second with Russia rushing to an 8-3 lead, but by the time we reached eleven it was all square again. With Russia blocking well, Dominican Republics coach Marcos Kwiek changed his setter (bringing on Camil Inmaculada Dominguez Martinez) demanding an increase in set speed to give their team a better chance with the attack.
Just when the team in white needed to strike, their serve deserted them, missing four in their last five. This wasn’t the case though at 20-24 when we saw the best rally of the match in attack, block and defence. Eventually the ball found its way to Anna Kotikova who made no mistake with her cross court hit and Russia were one set away from the 3 points they craved.
Ekaterina Lyubushkina started serving in the third and showed excellent placement to steer her team to a 5-0 lead. Then there was a rare error at 7-3 for Russia, when a player (who shall remain nameless) served the ball under the net – giving hope to millions of Volleyball players around the world who will have done the same at some point. That was only a small blip in what was a strong set performance as they turned the screw being dominant in all areas of the game (16-11).
With the stats showing that both teams were putting a greater percentage of their attacks down the line credit must go to each teams setter who were placing the ball perfectly. Russia’s Tatiana Romanova also showed great composure when the Dominican Republic gave it one more push but it was proved not to be when Yonkaira Paola Peña Isabel was put down - somewhat fortuitously.
In the end there was nothing fortunate about the match win though, with Russia being deserved winners and their thoughts will already be on the matches to come.