Bydgoszcz, Poland, June 6, 2018 - Malwina Smarzek produced a virtuoso attacking performance as Poland won a breathless encounter with Germany 3-1 (25-21, 21-25, 25-20, 25-9) on Wednesday, claiming a first world level victory over their neighbours since 2010.
The clash between Smarzek and Germany’s Louisa Lippmann - the top two scorers in the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Nations League - was one of the fascinating subplots in this highly anticipated encounter between the two neighbours and rivals, and in the end it was Smarzek who emerged as the clear winner.
The 22-year-old racked up a game-high 29 points (24 spikes and five blocks) to increase her VNL-leading tally to 263, whereas Lippmann could only manage nine points as Germany’s three-game winning streak came to an end.
Poland captain Agnieszka Kakolewska was the night’s other outstanding performer, producing a massive nine blocks on her way to 17 points (seven spikes, one ace). The middle blocker was inspirational at the net as Poland made a total of 20 blocks to Germany’s seven. Natalia Medrzyk also contributed eight spikes and a block, while Marlena Plesnierowicz fired over three aces.
Maren Fromm was Germany’s top scorer with 15 points (13 spikes, one block, one ace), but Felix Koslowski’s side were too inconsistent throughout, and made a horrendous start to the fourth and final set to all but hand Poland victory. They now trail their neighbours 8-2 in their world level head-to-head.
It didn’t take long for the boisterous crowd at the Luczniczka Hall to realise they were in for a treat, as Lippmann set the tone with a couple of early spikes. Fromm also flashed one over before Smarzek got off the mark to make it 4-3 to Poland. The scoreline remained incredibly tight throughout most of the set, as the two neighbours matched each other blow for blow in an electric attacking display. Smarzek showed her all-round ability with some great defensive work to keep Poland on the front foot, while home captain Kakolewska stayed rock solid at the net. Despite more fine work from Lippmann and Marie Schölzel, the Poles eventually edged clear in the closing stages, with Smarzek bringing up four set points and converting with her eighth point of the match (25-21).
Lippmann had sent a couple of spikes wide in the first set but she really began to find her stride in the second, smashing Germany into a 7-5 lead. Smarzek moved into double figures as she brought it back to 7-7, before Medrzyk got Poland back on track after a run of three straight points for Germany. The visitors went in 16-13 up at the second technical time out after a fantastic block from Schölzel, before the match’s most controversial moment arrived at 16-14. There was a long delay waiting for Hawkeye to deliberate over a point, with the referee originally awarding the point to Germany and giving Poland coach Jacek Nawrocki a yellow card for contestation. The Hawkeye decision was eventually reversed, much to the visitors’ ire, but they responded by winning a phenomenal 30-second rally straight after the restart. Jennifer Geerties nudged Germany closer to the line with a fine spike, while some poor serving from the hosts allowed Fromm to level things up with an ace (25-21).
Germany took that momentum into the start of the third set, with Schölzel helping them into a 3-1 lead - but they simply couldn’t find a way to deal with Smarzek, who soon had Poland back on level terms as she followed up a thunderous spike with a huge block. The hosts were 8-6 ahead by the first technical time out, and Medrzyk and Kakolewska soon stretched that advantage to four points. Fromm and Schölzel managed to bring it back to 14-12, but a Kakolewska ace and a Zuzanna Efimienko-Mlotkowska block quickly had Poland back in the driving seat. Smarzek blasted over a 95 kilometre-an-hour spike as the home side moved into a 2-1 lead (25-20).
Considering just how tight the match had been up until this point, it was astonishing to see Germany go completely AWOL at the start of the fourth set, as Poland opened up an incredible 11-0 lead. Kakolewska in particular was having a whale of a time at the net, blocking absolutely everything the visitors could throw at her and slamming over a couple of spikes for good measure. Smarzek and Medrzyk also got involved as Germany called time out after time out to no avail. They eventually got on the board at 11-1, but Kakolewska and Smarzek had pushed the lead out to 17-1 by the time the visitors finally woke up. Poland’s victory was never in doubt, and the celebrations had started long before the match came to an end on another Hawkeye decision (25-9).
Having finally got the better of Germany for the first time since the 2010 FIVB World Grand Prix, Poland will now be looking to boost their hopes of qualifying for the Final Six as they entertain Belgium on Thursday. Germany, meanwhile, will be confident of getting back on track against Argentina, who have lost all 11 of their VNL matches so far.