USA booked a ticket to the World Grand Prix Final Six cotest and saved chances for claiming this tournament fourth time in a row after winning a five-sets game against Bulgaria. At the same time, Bulgaria wasted a historical ocasion to be in top 6 for the first time. Another Final Six participant, Japan, pleased the home crowed beating the Czech Republic also after tie-break.
Japan – Czech Republic 3 – 2 (25-18, 22-25, 28-26, 23-25, 15-13)
Japan: Mihashita 3, Kimura 15, Iwasaka 7, Ebata 25, Shinnabe 28, Hirai 1, Zayasu (L) and Nagaoka, Hashimoto, Ishida, Oumi, Otake 7
Czech Republic: Vincourova 3, Kossanyiova 4 , Plchotova , Havlickova 29, Vanzurova 6, Monzoni 14, Jasova (L) and Mlejnkova 13, Dostalova, Hodanova 1,Pastulova 10
The Czechs just weren’t in the game at the start of the match. Leading scorer Aneta Havlickova was blocked twice by Nana Iwasaka as Japan jumped out to a 4-0 lead, prompting Czech coach Carlo Parisi to call a timeout. Havlickova then missed the target with a couple of shots and Japan were six points ahead at the first technical timeout. The introduction of Michaela Mlejnkova – who turned 17 last month – added a spark to the Czech attack and when Havlickova started to land bombs in the Japan court it turned into more of a contest. But Japan are not the best diggers in the competition for no reason and their brilliant defence helped them stay ahead. A return to form by Yukiko Ebata was another bonus and her fifth kill of the match earned Japan the first set.
More brilliant defence helped Japan into an early lead in the second set, but the Czechs responded with some tough hits from Kristyna Pastulova and Michaela Monzoni and led by two at the first TTO. Parisi called a timeout when Japan levelled at 10 following two good points by Iwasaka at the net and it turned into a good contest after that. Local girl Arisa Sato, Japan’s libero, lit up the arena with an inspired fake set, while Mlejnkova responded with a neat dummy tipover of her own. Japan were a point up at 19-18 when two errors by Haruka Miyashita and a service ace by Tereza Vanzurova handed the momentum to the Czechs. Japan coach Masayoshi Manabe called two timeouts in the space of three points and his team closed to 22-21, prompting Parisi to call a halt, but the Czechs were looking good and Havlickova made the match score 1-1 with a block on Ebata and a spike on the right.
Risa Shinnabe inspired Japan early in the third set with two terrific kills and a service ace, and Ebata then slugged a couple of spikes of her own to put Japan three points up at the first TTO. A point later – after the Czechs failed to handle another Shinnabe service – Parisi called a timeout and Shinnabe plonked her next serve into the net. Japan were ahead 14-11 when they started to make errors – a missed set, a netted serve and a netted spike – and the Czechs found themselves a point ahead at the second TTO. A sloppy patch by Japan was matched by the Czechs and the two teams were level at 21 after a service ace by Miyashita after which Parisi called a timeout. After that, it was neck and neck. The Czechs saved two setpoints and Japan one before a service ace by Ebata and a two-touch error by the Czechs handed the set to Japan 28-26.
Japan got good blocks from Riho Otake and Saori Kimura as they moved into an 8-5 lead at the start of the fourth set and the Czechs went off the boil. Good hitting from Shinnabe put Japan in the driving seat at 16-10, but after Manabe made a couple of substitutions, they lost their way and the Czechs drew level. Shinnabe then wasted all her good work by handing setpoint to the Czechs by planting a serve into the net and a block by Monzoni on Ebata took the match into a tiebreaker.
Parisi called a timeout after Japan took a 4-1 lead in the fifth set. The Czechs responded but an inspired Shinnabe – including a super block on Mlejnkova – kept Japan on top and they were two points ahead at the turnaround. A brilliant Otake block on Havlickova, a sharp shot from Kimura, a service ace from Otake and an error by Havlickova gave Japan a four-point cushion at 11-7, but the Czechs clung on, saving two matchpoints before Havlickova sent a shot wide to end the match.
ActionsSpike pointsSpike %BlockServeDigReceptionSets noteUnforced ErrorsJapan6938%981865%11.430Czech Rep.5737%1661239%5.826
Actions/PlayersPointsSpike pointsSpike %Spike errorsBlockServeUnforced ErrorsYukiki Ebata252333%101111Aneta Havlickova292435%104112
USA – Bulgaria 3 – 2 (16-25, 25-23, 20-25, 25-15, 15-8)
USA: A. Glass 6, Hill 13, Harmotto 12, Murphy 5, Hildebrand 15, Gibbemeyer 3, Miyashiro (L) and Fawcett 13, Lichtman 1, Paolini 9, Hagglund
Bulgaria: Kitipova 4, Rabadzhieva 10, Ruseva 14, E. Nikolova 16, Vasileva 20, S. Filipova 8, M. Filipova (L) and D. Nikolova 1, Karakasheva 2
USA struggled to get into the match in the early stages and coach Karch Kiraly called a timeout at 2-6. The Bulgarians, on the other hand, found their spiking range early – notably Dobriana Rabadzhieva and Elitsa Vasileva – and the Americans were playing catchup from the start. The Americans also didn’t manage to get a blocking point until late in the set, but the Bulgarians dominated throughout. Emiliya Nikolova brought setpoint with a sweet kill and a block by Hristina Ruseva put the Bulgarians 1-0 up.
Some sloppy defending gave the Bulgarians an advantage at the start of the second set and Vasileva landed a couple of good blows as her team took a four-point lead at the first technical timeout. Kiraly called a timeout after a big block by Strashimira Filipova on Kelly Murphy made the score 12-7 for Bulgaria. USA captain Kristin Hildebrand then started to find her range with some cracking shots and Bulgaria coach Marcello Abbondanza had to call a timeout when the Americans closed to within two points at 15-13. The Americans kept knocking at the Bulgarians’ door and finally it opened. Bulgaria went 23-20 ahead on a netted serve by Lauren Paolini, but Mariya Karakasheva did likewise and the Americans scored five straight points – including great blocks by Christa Harmotto and Kimberly Hill – to take the set 25-23 and level the match.
The key to the third set was simple: Bulgaria’s blocking. Or, to be more accurate, Ruseva’s blocking. The Bulgarian came up with five huge blocks, including three in a six-point section mid-set, to raise the Bulgarians’ total to 12 for the match. However, American captain Hildebrand was fighting hard to keep her team in the match and they were ahead at the second technical timeout – but only by a point. The Bulgarians then came up with more big blocks to take the advantage. A long serve by Hildebrand handed the set and a 2-1 advantage to Bulgaria.
Alisha Glass made a couple of sensational defensive plays early in the fourth set and also served an ace that put the Americans 10-7 up. They were soon five points ahead, defending better and playing with plenty of confidence, a point Nicole Fawcett emphasized with two ripping service aces to make the score 17-11. Another fantastic block by Glass – her third of the night – saw the Americans six points ahead at 20-14 and after that the match headed for a fifth set. ‘
The momentum stayed with the Americans in the fifth set and three errors by the Bulgarians and an ace by Hildebrand allowed USA to lead by five points at the turnaround. Glass came up with another classy block to stretch the Americans lead to seven points at 10-3 and they had little trouble after that. Matchpoint came when Desislava Nikolova couldn’t handle a drive by Fawcett and Fawcett then hit the winning shot.
ActionsSpike pointsSpike %BlockServeDigReceptionSets noteUnforced ErrorsUSA6043%116935%8.830Bulgaria5540%1462044%6.231
Actions/PlayersPointsSpike pointsSpike %Spike errorsBlockServeUnforced ErrorsKirstin Hildebrand151345%6117Elitsa Vasileva201856%3114