Lausanne, Switzerland, June 21, 2016 - There is just one more week of FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix Group 1 Preliminary Round to go, with a handful of teams now pulling away from the pack. Here are five things to take from Week 2.
1. Galvanised Goncharova up to her usual tricks
Nataliya Goncharova is continuing her quest to become the most notorious scorer the World Grand Prix has ever seen with another monumental display of dominance.
The 27-year-old, who was top scorer during last year’s World Grand Prix Finals in Omaha, notched up another 65 points over the weekend, helping Russia remain unbeaten and joint-top of Group 1 with China.
Needless to say, she is making that opposite position her own, with every other attack seemingly coming from the Dinamo Moscow star.
Russia have not qualified for the 2016 Finals just yet, but a 3-0 or 3-1 win this weekend in Kyoto would book their ticket, a stage fitting for their star player.
2. China up for the fight
The mark of a great champion is to be able to adapt and recover to overcome challenges – something China demonstrated admirably on Saturday in Macau. 2-1 down to Serbia and trailing 14-10 in the fourth set would be too much of a mountain for some teams to scale.
But China are not just some team.
The side rallied after a monster block from Xu before a Hui ace drew them level. What proceeded was a see-saw battle which stretched the home fan’s nerves to breaking point. Zhu Ting was calmness personified, nailing two consecutive kills followed by a spike from Gong and an ace to drag them back into the match and, eventually, to victory.
The FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Cup 2015 winners are oozing confidence and with Lang Ping at the helm, they are becoming seriously formidable opponents.
3. Brazil given bumpy ride
While China were busy adding to their reputation in Macau, Brazil seemed intent on denting their own.
They somehow managed to throw away a 2-0 lead against Serbia in their opening match of the weekend to gift the Europeans a vital victory before tamely going down to China in their final game on Sunday.
Captain Fabiana Claudino highlighted the errors that saw them gift that match to Serbia, but they continued throughout the weekend.
It is far from disaster for Jose Guimaraes’ side, but will not instil confidence less than 50 days from the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
4. Back on the horse for USA
USA ended their opening weekend with a loss to China – the same team they beat during last year’s World Grand Prix Finals and in the final of the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship 2014.
But Karch Kiraly’s team regrouped at home in Long Beach and did all the talking they needed to on the court with three convincing wins and just one set dropped.
"I think each week we build on the previous week,” captain Christa Dietzen revealed. “We talked about not looking at it as this big daunting task with so many matches in the Grand Prix, or so matches before leaving for Rio. It is taking one match at a time."
5. Thailand building to Bangkok (but not blackouts)
Thailand registered their second win of the tournament on Monday, beating Italy in their rescheduled match following the blackout which halted their original encounter two days earlier.
The Thais had clearly adjusted well and caught their hosts unaware. The side, as hosts, will aim to continue to build to the Finals in a few weeks where they will surely find an extra edge with the partisan home crowd in tow.