Lausanne, Switzerland, May 13, 2016 – Twelve teams will take part in the top-tier Group 1 competition of the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix, with high hopes of making it to the top podium at the Final Six in Bangkok, Thailand from July 6 to 10
. With less than a month before the tournament kicks off on June 9, we turn the spotlight on China in the ninth of a 12-part series.
China – Gaining competitive edge with young talents
China are once again on the rise in women’s volleyball, with the infusion of young talents in their line-up which Lang Ping carried out since she returned for her second tenure as coach in 2013. With an Olympic hero back at the helm of one of the most successful squads in women’s volleyball, the young Chinese players will gain a lot in terms of experience and in the fulfilment of their personal aspirations.
China will compete at their 24th World Grand Prix – a feat only their Asian neighbours Japan have matched. China have only one World Grand Prix title in spite of their abundant achievements in women’s volleyball. The team were able to capture the crown in Andria, Italy in 2003 when they beat Russia in the final. However, they have several other podium finishes in the World Grand Prix, as runners-up in 1993, 2001, 2002, 2007 and 2013, and as third placers in 1994, 1999 and 2005.
Last year, China had a prolific run in the preliminary round with an unbeaten win-record, dropping only a total of five sets in nine matches. With a string of straight-set matches, China only gave up one set each to rivals Russia 3-1 (25-21, 21-25, 25-13, 25-23), Italy 3-1 (25-21, 20-25, 25-16, 25-19) and Asian arch-rivals Japan 3-1 (25-11, 21-25, 25-15, 25-17). China underscored their reign with a 3-2 (22-25, 25-13, 25-22, 19-25, 15-12) win over eventual winners the United States in Hong Kong’s preliminary round closing match.
Their performance dipped in the Final Six as they lost three matches to Brazil, Italy and USA, but they still earned victories over Japan 3-0 (25-20, 25-19, 25-12) and Russia 3-0 (27-25, 25-20, 25-19) to finish fourth overall.
China have a long list of achievements in the sport. They have two gold medals from the Los Angeles 1984 and Athens 2004 Olympic Games. China have also earned multiple titles - two in the World Championship, four in the World Cup and one in the World Grand Champions Cup.
China went through a period of struggle between 2008 and 2012, as they ended up empty handed in the World Grand Prix and other competitions. After Lang Ping’s stint as coach of the USA women’s national team, her second spell as coach restored China’s status as an international powerhouse.
Lang Ping implemented change and success immediately rubbed off as they took the silver medal in the 2013 World Grand Prix Final Six in Sapporo. She also led them to a silver medal finish at the 2014 World Championship.
The Chinese coach was responsible for their resurgence by winning the 2015 World Cup – their first major title in 11 years since Athens 2004. Now they have qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games thanks to this result.
The Chinese side’s triumph at the World Cup is the product of the team's revamp and an excellent jumpstart of their future endeavours.
The young players in the squad show a diverse mix of styles that range from soft shot dinks to powerful spikes. The Chinese side have certainly evolved and have adapted to the current trends in women’s volleyball, which is dominated by height and power. Their competitive edge is now their ideal combination of athleticism, speed, height and power.
China’s rise can also be attributed to factors like the players’ exposure in foreign club competition. Each year, foreign clubs are recruiting more Asian players and China get the biggest advantage, as they have the most sought-after players.
Player to watch – Zhu Ting
Zhu Ting is considered by many as one of the best players in the world right now. The young outside hitter collected various individual awards and international titles as a member of China’s youth and junior national teams. She was named MVP and Best Spiker at the 2012 Asian Junior Championship, and won similar accolades the following year at the FIVB Volleyball Women’s Junior World Championship. She also topped the scoring charts at the 2013 Montreux Volley Masters.
In a short span of time, Zhu’s skills have become more refined, turning her into a fiercer competitor. Her excellent performance as a senior national team member guarantees that she is destined for a long reign at the top of women’s volleyball.
She made an impressive debut at the World Grand Prix in 2013 when she won Best Outside Spiker – an award she also captured at the Asian Championship in 2013 and 2015, and at the 2014 World Championship. Last year, Zhu captivated the Japanese audience when she led China to win the gold medal at the 2015 World Cup. Her great performance earned her the tournament's MVP award.
Zhu was born in the Henan province. The 21-year-old played for Chinese club Guangdong Evergrande and took bronze at the 2013 FIVB Women’s Club World Championship. The following year she played for her hometown’s club team Henan Huawei VC. The Chinese superstar has signed with recently crowned Turkish League champions Vakifbank Istanbul, who hopes to earn their 10th domestic crown and third CEV Champions League title next season.