Varna, Bulgaria, June 19, 2016 - Puerto Rico won the bronze in Group 2 of FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix 2016 after disappointing the home crowd in Varna with a 3-1 (23-25, 25-22, 25-21, 25-23) victory over Bulgaria in the third-place match. Karina Ocasio rose to the occasion and hammered out 27 points for the winning side, supported with 19 points (5 aces) by teammate Aurea Cruz.
Despite losing on the volleyball court, there was still plenty to celebrate on the Bulgarian side as well. Before the match captain Eva Yaneva and libero Mariya Filipova were honoured for playing their last match with the Bulgarian national jersey. After the match, Emiliya Nikolova, who scored a team high of 18 points, was surprisingly called on the court to receive a marriage proposal in an emotional moment for everyone at the competition hall... And yes, she said “Yes.”
This was the fourth World Grand Prix match between these two teams. After three losses, this time Puerto Rico finally celebrated with a first win.
Puerto Rico took an early lead, but could not hold on to it for very long. Two consecutive aces by Viktoriya Grigorova, garnished with two powerful spikes by Eva Yaneva levelled the score. Bulgaria took control and shortly after the second technical time-out already had a seven-point advantage at 18-11. Puerto Rico tried climbing up, with Karina Ocasio leading the way in offence, but the closest they could get to Bulgaria was at 23-24. Emiliya Nikolova performed well throughout the set as well as at the very end, when she spiked for her seventh point and for 25-23.
More merciless spiking by Yaneva and Nikolova led to a 10-4 advantage for Bulgaria in the second set. With Aurea Cruz on fire, the Puerto Ricans found their way back as Alexandra Oquendo aced for 14-14. The balance was maintained through 22-22, after which Puerto Rico stepped ahead. Karina Ocasio rose to the occasion hitting for the last two points shaping up her set tally to nine points and the set score to 25-22.
With four serving aces Cruz helped Puerto Rico take an early 8-1 lead in the third set. The Caribbean squad stepped up their blocking efforts as well and widened the gap to ten points at the second mandatory break. At 9-19 things looked quite gloomy on the Bulgarian side, but with fresh blood Yuliya Stoyanova subbing in for Nikolova, the hosts managed to narrow the gap down to three points. Still, a perfect back-row hit by Puerto Rico’s Daly Santana, the ball was put on the floor for 25-21.
Puerto Rico’s attackers kept the pressure in the fourth set to step 8-4 ahead. Some fantastic blocking helped Bulgaria not only level the score at 11-11, but also take the lead. At the second technical time-out, the gap was three points and it was Puerto Rico’s turn to catch up, which they did at 19-19. The dramatic ending was spiced up by “the duel of opposites” as Ocasio and Nikolova kept on hammering. An ace by Santana gave Puerto Rico the match point and Ocasio converted it for 25-23.