Apeldoorn, Netherlands, May 31, 2018 - Malwina Smarzek was the key figure again for Poland as they thrashed South Korea in straight sets 3-0 (25-11, 25-15, 25-16) for their first victory in 5 matches in the women's FIVB Volleyball Nations League.
The Poles knew they had to win to avoid matching their unwanted run of 5 straight world-level defeats from the 2014 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix, and another defeat never looked likely as they came tearing out of the blocks to produce a classy performance that they had been threatening for a while. In a surprisingly one-sided contest, they simply had too much power with their defence solid throughout against a woeful South Korea side who looked disinterested and off the pace.
Poland may have started the day 14th in the Nations League table, but they performed valiantly in straight-sets defeats to the Netherlands and Brazil this week - notching at least 20 points in every set - and things finally clicked as they recorded just their third win in 9 in the tournament to move up to 11th. Malwina Smarzek began the day as the competition's top scorer with 192 and she once again led the scoring charts in Apeldoorn with 19. Agnieszka Kakolewska chipped in with 13 and was a potent blocker throughout, while Marlena Plesnierowicz - who won 4 points on serve - and Natalia Medrzyk (8 points) also had strong games.
South Korea were utterly outclassed against the host nation, Netherlands, on Wednesday, and they weren't at the races for the second day running as they produced arguably their worst performance of the campaign to slump to a 4th straight defeat. In a game of few bright spots for the Asian team, Jaeyeong Lee top scored with 11 points, while Jeongah Park (10) also reached double figures. But South Korea are now 4 & 5 after a week in Apeldoorn.
The Poles were realistically out of Final Round contention prior to this match, but they came firing out of the traps with some powerful play. Kakolewska's prowess at the net put the Poles 5-2 in front. Jacek Nawrocki's girls had never won in the Netherlands before in 5 attempts but they were beginning to sense that this would be their day. A Smarzek ace made it 13-7 and the Koreans managed to reduce the gap to 5 when Jaeyeong Lee's inch-perfect spike landed inside the court. But that was to be South Korea's penultimate point of the set as the Poles strode clear with their menacing power proving too much. Poland eventually cruised to the set 25-11 with South Korea coach Cha Hae-won looking forlorn on the sidelines.
The Koreans, who trail the head-to-head record 10-6 but had beaten Poland twice in 3 attempts at the 2017 World Grand Prix, were all over the place in this contest. Plesnierowicz's ace started proceedings for the Europeans in the second set and they led 8-3 at the first technical timeout with Smarzek and Kakolewska too hot to handle. South Korea were making life far too easy for a side as tall and threatening as Poland and the giant figure of Zuzanna Efemienko had a simple tap in to make it 14-8. Errors continued to creep in among the Koreans with a basic lack of communication handing the Poles point after point, and they eventually took the set with ease to move 2 clear after only 50 minutes.
South Korea needed a big response and they started to play with a little more freedom in the third set. Eunjin Park made it 2-0 but back-to-back wayward spikes brought Poland level at 5-5. Jeongah Park made sure that the Koreans took a 2-point lead into the first technical timeout, but from then on it was all downhill for the Asian side. The Poles - with Plesnierowicz serving magnificently and Smarzek continuing to bury spikes - scored 12 of the next 13 points as South Korean heads wilted. Emilia Mucha's well-placed spike brought the Poles into the 20s after a challenge and Kakolewska's delicate touch brought up match point. Despite having 4 of them saved, Poland weren't to be denied with Efemienko thundering down a spike to seal the set 25-16 and a very impressive victory. It's on to home comforts now for the Poles who entertain Argentina, Germany and Belgium in Bydgoszcz in week 4.