Zielona Góra, Poland, June 3, 2016 - Super scorer Karina Ocasio helped Puerto Rico defeat Czech Republic 3-1 (20-25, 25-20, 25-21, 25-19) in their opening World Grand Prix Group Two match on Friday.
The 30-year-old Opposite Spiker contributed 17 points, continuing in the same vein as last year's World Grand Prix when she was the Group 2 top scorer with 146 points and second best scorer in last month's World Olympic Qualification tournament (39 points), where Puerto Rico qualified for the Olympics for the first time.
Ocasio was helped by colleague Alexandra Oquendo with 15 points, which was equal to the Czech Republic’s best scorer Michaela Mlejnkova.
If coach Alexander Waibl was unsure of how his young players should handle their first WGP match, the first set surely calmed him down, as the Czech girls put on a really balanced fight against the newly qualified Olympians. Czech Republic highlighted the game with good defence and an impressive block on Ocasio (13:13). The score remained tied while both sides scored on a point-for-point basis, until Czech Republic finally found the right rhythm (plus a little luck) at 21-21 and scored four in a row to take the first set 25-21.
The lost set seemed to have motivated team Puerto Rico, who started the second part of the game with focus and intensity, scoring away with a mix of spikes, blocking and clever taps, quickly getting to 7-null and 8-1 at the first mandatory break. Good serving by coach Nunez’s players kept their game going and even though Czech ladies woke up an started chasing the score, the set was soon to be sealed 25:20 by Puerto Rico.Related information:FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix 2016 - Media Guide
By the mid-part of set three Puerto Rico were playing their game again, building a five point lead (16-11), this time mainly thanks to Aurelia Cruz and her good spiking. Alexander Waibl’s players had their moments, getting back from 16-20 to 18-20 and 20-21 with the help of their captain Tereza Rossi and some unnecessary errors on Puerto Rico’s part. That was about it though and Stephanie Enright’s powerful serve won the set ball 25-21 for her team.
It seemed that in the fourth set Puerto Rico picked up the game where they left it. They had the edge in service, made fewer errors and steered to an overwhelming advantage of 23-13 with a steady hand. Puerto Rico’s overconfidence gave the Czechs a chance to get as close as 19-23, but that was it and the set concluded at 25-19 in Puerto Rico's favour.