Lausanne, Switzerland, June 14, 2016 - The FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix rolled into week two last weekend, with the Group 1 teams joining in the action. Here are a few things we picked up across the course of the weekend.
Lang Ping’s second stint as coach of China may have begun in 2013, but she is quickly helping her team to peak at just the right time. Disappointment at the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship Italy 2014 – where they lost to USA in the finals – has been followed up by victory at the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Cup 2015, the 2016 Montreux Volley Masters and, now, an unbeaten start in the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix.
Led by the hugely talented Zhu Ting on attack – who notched up 38 points on the opening weekend of action in Ningbo – the world No.2 are in devastating form, dropping just one set and topping the group. With another weekend playing in front of their home fans – the bright lights of Macau welcoming the tournament this time around – many are expecting them to book their place in the Finals.
2. A familiar face returns for Brazil
While China were keeping the smiles on their fan’s faces in Ningbo, Brazil were keeping Rio bouncing with three wins from three as they began their campaign in the right fashion.
The atmosphere in Rio was, unsurprisingly, lively, with supporters clearly finding their voice with just over 50 days to go until the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
On the court, Natalia Pereira and Fabiana Claudinho were in scorching form. Their dual performance at the net against Italy was particularly impressive, with Fabiana claiming seven blocks and Natalia five, more than the eight combined for the Azzuri.
All of this is ignoring the fact that the enigmatic Thaisa Menezes made her return to the court after missing last year’s tournament after surgery to both knees, a sight that will have buoyed Brazilian hopes in their Olympic year.
Like China, they also finished the weekend having dropped just one set, meaning their match with the same side this Sunday becomes all the more mouthwatering!
3. Paola Egonu is the real deal
The world learned what Italian fans had known for a while when their side clashed with Japan in Rio de Janeiro – Paola Egonu is the future.
At 17-years-old (yes, 17) the Cittadella-born wing spiker registered 30 points, including 26 spikes. That’s the second highest points-haul by an individual player so far in this year’s tournament (Angela Leyva of Peru and Berenika Tomsia of Poland have both scored 31 against Kazakhstan and Argentina respectively).
Although parts of her game no doubt need work, the youngster is showing such promise that Marco Bonitta is no doubt working out how she fits into his plans for Rio 2016 and beyond.
4. Puerto Rico pummeling their way to Bulgaria
It seems not much is getting in the way of the Puerto Rican express as it moves on to the Group 3 Finals unbeaten and showing few signs of derailing.
The world No.16 ended the weekend as the only team to remain unbeaten in Group 2. They even made up for their slight five-set wobble against Poland the week before by beating the same side 3-0 (25-21, 25-21, 25-23) just to set the record straight.
Karina Ocasio is providing the brunt of the attack, scoring 89 points including 17 blocks, the second highest player on both Group 2 rankings.
5. Amazing Angela
Like Puerto Rico, Peru are also going to the Group 3 Finals unbeaten and, like their Caribbean rivals, have also dropped just four sets.
For Peru, a lot of the thanks for that can go to Angela Leyva who, not content with taking the top scorer award in 2015, also looks set to claim it in 2016 also. The 19-year-old scored 137 points last year, and she’s already usurped that this season as she currently sits on 144, 37 ahead of the next best scorer in Croatia’s Samanta Fabris.
Like Egonu, she was an early starter at international level, being named on the roster at just 14 and was named captain at 17. If she is this good now, just how much of an outstanding star will she become in the next few years.