Apeldoorn, Netherlands, May 29, 2018 - Lonneke Sloetjes starred as hosts Netherlands maintained their terrific women's FIVB Volleyball Nations League form with a hard-fought straight-sets win 3-0 (25-22, 25-22, 27-25) over Poland inside the raucous Omnisport Apeldoorn.
This was a battling and tenacious performance from the Dutch, who started the day inside the top five, and they deservedly recorded their sixth win in seven Volleyball Nations League matches which puts them among the favourites to make the Final Round. Jamie Morrison's girls were forced to work extremely hard though with Poland, who have now won only two of their opening seven matches, always dangerous in attack with their height advantage as they almost sent the match to a fourth set.
The Dutch had plenty of attacking weaponry with Sloetjes top-scoring with 16 points, while Yvon Belien (14 points) and Maret Balkestein (11 points) were also influential. Kirsten Knip - one of the outstanding liberos in the tournament - provided the defensive rigidity as the hosts recorded their fourth straight victory over Poland.
The Poles worked tirelessly and despite being kept fairly quiet by a stern Dutch defence early on, Malwina Smarzek - top scorer in the Volleyball Nations League prior to Tuesday with 155 points - came alive in the second set and again top-scored for her side with 15 points. Agnieszka Kakolewska (10 points) had a big game for Poland with some excellent blocks at the net, while Zuzanna Efimienko was also a threat.
The Dutch had lost the opening set in three of their first six matches, but they came ripping out of the blocks in front of a near sell-out crowd in Apeldoorn, with Belien putting them 4-1 in front. The lead stretched out to 16-10 by the second technical time out, but the Poles fought back brilliantly and closed the gap to a single point (22-23) with Smarzek beginning to find her range and Kakolewska a presence at the net with her blocking. But Sloetjes came to the fore for the Netherlands with some outstanding spikes as the Dutch got over the line (25-22) to draw first blood and delight the home crowd.
The second set was almost a carbon copy of the first with the Dutch beginning at an electric pace. Plak's majestic block gave them a 5-1 lead and Kakolewska's serving error made it 7-2 as the hosts threatened to blow their opponents away. But Poland, who lost back-to-back matches in Macau last week against Serbia and Thailand after stunning China, showed some resilience with Kakolewska's giant net presence causing the Dutch all sorts of problems as Poland took an 11-10 lead. Poland's blockers were having a field day with Plak blocked out as the visitors led by two at the second technical time out, but the Dutch - technically proficient and unfazed in pressure situations - took nine of the next 14 points with Belien's spike putting them 23-21 in front. And Morrison's side saw out the set 25-22 to move to within one of victory.
After edging two tight sets, the Dutch pulled clear with some exemplary play in the third as Polish errors became a recurring theme. After Plak made it 4-3 to the Netherlands, the hosts began to turn on the style. Nicole Koolhaus' block put them four points clear and with Poland's communication and sets slightly off, Plak added another point to make it 16-9 at the second technical timeout. A poor spike attempt from Martyna Grajber made it 19-14 to the Dutch, but the hosts got jittery with the end in sight with Sloetjes misjudging one at the net as the Poles closed to within three. The Dutch lead was then extinguished at 23-23, but the Olympic semifinalists finally managed to clinch the set 27-25 after Poland had saved two match points, with Sloetjes sealing a seventh win in eight world-level meetings against the visitors. It's the first time Poland have lost three straight matches since the 2014 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix.