Poland shock Russia as Smarzek stars again
After the match Malwina was rightly thrilled: “Congratulations to my team, Russia has very good wide hitters but we stopped them and have won in three sets – I am so happy”. Poland are now on a six-match winning streak at the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Nations League but a spot at the finals is already out of their reach.
Poland have actually beaten Russia at the European level on the last three occasions and with this being on their home soil it is not such a shock. That did not stop the elation after the final point though with Jacek Nawrocki clearly pleased with his teams nights work. Malwina Smarzek is their main point finisher (she now has 342 points from 13 matches – the highest in the competition) but every person in their team plays their part. Their captain Agnieszka Kakolewska put in another solid performance scoring 10 points and sandwiched between her and Smarzek was Natalia Medrzyk on 14.
Another player crucial to the win tonight was the Polish setter Marlena Plesnierowicz who was frequently the one that held the team together whenever things got slightly tough. Her two aces also both came at important times.
Coach Vadim Pankov of Russia was visibly angry with his team for not turning up today, however he knew before the match that their chance to qualify for the final round had already disappeared. Natalia Malykh was one of only a few players who can look back at a decent performance scoring 16 points, followed by the teams top scorer in the competition Irina Voronkova on 10.
Prior to the match both teams were on W7-L6 in the Volleyball Nations League but Poland are now favourites to finish higher in the table. In the final day at Hala Widowiskovo-Sportowa hosts Poland will face Dominican Republic and Russia take on Japan.
Scores were close right through to the twenties in the first set with neither side leading by more than 2 points, but with the finish line in sight and cheered on by 2,300+ home fans, Poland pushed on and found the next gear to eventually take the set 25-21 - that player Smarzek with the cross court winning spike.
The second was just as close, until the teams reached 11 points when Poland went into overdrive scoring 10 of the next 11 points on offer. Sure Russia came back into it, but Poland had done enough and for the second set running Smarzek hit the winning point - this time from the pipe position in a cleverly constructed play.
A quick start from Poland in the third was pulled back by Russia, but the comeback was short lived as it quickly went to 15-10 helped by some excellent work by the Polish libero Maria Stenzel.
Playing with freedom and a confidence not always easy to create, the score raced to 21-14 and it was a question of when and not if Poland would win. Russia appeared shell-shocked at 21-14 and soon a block from Zuzanna Efimienko-Mlotkowska and a serve that drifted long gave the three points to Poland.
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