Ekaterinburg, Russia, May 16, 2018 - Captain Kseniia Parubets produced another sensational performance to help Russia overcome a spirited challenge from Thailand on Wednesday, and move level with the Netherlands at the top of Pool 1 in the women’s Volleyball Nations League after a hard-fought 3-1 (25-23, 13-25, 25-18, 30-28) win.
Parubets had already been instrumental in Russia’s 3-1 victory over Argentina on Tuesday - top-scoring with 21 points - and she was at it again at the Palace of Sports, leading by example with an eye-watering total of 24 points - over a quarter of her team’s final haul.
The 23-year-old finished with a game-high 23 spikes, while Natalia Malykh added a further 18 points for the hosts - 16 spikes, one block and one ace - and middle blocker Irina Fetisova chipped in with 12.
Thailand perhaps deserved better after an impressive showing, and came agonisingly close to taking the match into a deciding fifth set. Pimpichaya Kokram led the way for the visitors with 17 points, closely followed by Hattaya Bamrungsuk on 14 and Ajcharaporn Kongyot on 12.
The Thais - ranked 16th in the world, compared to fifth for the Russians - actually outscored the hosts 94-93 on points, but they failed to make their dominance count at the key moments as they looked to claim just a second win in 15 meetings with Russia, and their first since 2013.
On paper, then, Russia were the clear favourites - especially on home soil - but the visitors apparently hadn’t read the script. Kokram and Pornpun Guedpard helped the Asians surge into a 7-3 first-set lead, though the Russians served notice of their potential by winning two spectacular rallies, with Malykh and Olga Biryukova doing the damage. More excellent setting from Pornpun gave Thailand a 16-11 advantage, but Russia clawed it back in a breathless end to the set. Ekaterina Efimova and Malykh got the hosts back on level terms, before back-to-back spikes from Biryukova and a Fetisova effort brought up set point, and Malykh saw it out in style (25-23).
The second set followed a similar pattern as Thailand once again hit the ground running, with an ace from Hattaya seeing them into a 6-1 lead. A fine block from Chatchu-On Moksri and another thundering spike from Pimpichaya extended the gap to eight points (14-6), and though Russia rang the changes they were unable to reduce the deficit. Ajcharaporn added a couple more with a deft mixture of silk and steel, and the hosts soon found themselves a whopping 12 points adrift. Russia rallied briefly but the set was always going Thailand’s way, with Hattaya providing the final flourish (25-13).
Russia began to assert themselves again after a cagey start to the third set, with a huge effort from Irina Voronkova setting them on a charge. Chatchu-On kept Thailand ticking over, but another spike from Malykh put the hosts into a five-point lead (11-6). Parubets began to demonstrate why she is the terror of the Russian attack, with several monster hits from the captain putting Pankov Vadim’s side well on the way to taking the set. Iuliia Kutiukova came off the bench to shore things up as Thailand sent a return long to hand Russia the initiative (25-18).
Thailand had been steadily improving at the net throughout, and captain Pleumjit Thinkaow came up with a sensational block as they raced into a 9-3 lead at the start of the fourth. Chatchu-On also got up well as the visitors kept their noses in front, despite good work from Malykh, Efimova and Fetisova. Pimpichaya’s commanding spike made it 21-18 to Thailand, but a magnificent block from Efimova kept Russia alive heading into an extraordinary finale. Thailand had opportunities to send the match into a decider - while the hosts squandered three match points - but fittingly it was Parubets who had the final word as the Russians finally got the better of their courageous visitors (30-28).
Russia were far from their fluent best but maintained a perfect record going into Thursday’s highly anticipated clash against the Dutch - who have also won two from two - while Thailand will be hopeful of claiming a first victory over Argentina after this encouraging display.