Zielona Góra, Poland, June 2, 2016 - Having successfully booked a ticket for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in last month's qualifier, Puerto Rico will be looking to continue their hot run of form, when the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix 2016 Group 2 Pool B starts on Friday in Zielona Góra, Poland.
Puerto Rico beat Kenya, Colombia and Algeria in the World Olympic Qualification tournament on home soil 11 days ago without dropping a set to qualify for the Olympics for the first time.
Now they take on hosts Poland, the Czech Republic and Canada and coach Juan Carlos Nunez sees it as a great opportunity to play against top quality opposition.
“For our team, the first weeks of the World Grand Prix are very important because it is our preparation for the Olympic Games in Rio," Nunez said during Thursday's press conference at the Ruben Hotel. "Puerto Rico's national team qualified for the Olympics for the first time in history. It’s crucial for us to use games against European teams because we don’t have many opportunities to compete against squads from Europe.”
When asked about his hopes and expectations of the Olympic tournament, Nunez said: “We have qualified for the first time, but we are not going to Brazil for a vacation. I like to play and I also like to win. I will do everything that I can to prepare my team and we will want to play in the second round."
Puerto Rico finished fourth in last year's World Grand Prix Group 2 Final, which the Netherlands eventually won, on Polish soil in Lublin, losing to Poland in the semifinals and then the Czech Republic in the playoff for third.
“We will take this tournament game by game, trying to forget our main goal and focusing only on the nearest match, showing our best as consistently as possible,” Puerto Rico captain Yarimar Rosa, who played in last year’s Finals in Lublin, said.
FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix 2015 Group 2 Finals Results
Meanwhile, Canada coach Arnd Ludwig was clear about the World Grand Prix being “a kind of learning experiment” for his side. “We have a really young and inexperienced team, with a lot of players who have never played at this international level. We want to get us much as possible from this tournament. There are players whom I only know from practice and I want to see how they react in the real game."
“The young players are inexperienced but are also very excited to compete at this high level and to come to Poland. We really want to see what it’s like to play in front of this crowd,” Canada captain Lucy Charuk said.
Czech Republic coach Alexander Waibl is no stranger to Polish fans, having been coming here on a yearly basis with his club team. “Our situation is very similar to that of Canada, and we also share a similar age average of about 24” Waibl said. “Some of our players have already played in the World Grand Prix but not in very decisive roles. We have also some girls who are playing at this level for the first time in their lives. I’ve been the national team coach for four weeks now, also my staff is completely new. So it will be very interesting weekend for us. We will have chance to learn a lot,” he concluded.
“We’ve only had one month together as a team, but I hope that what we show here that it will be the beginning of many years of great volleyball for this group of players,” Teresa Rossi, captain of Czech Republic, said.
Poland beat Puerto Rico in last year's Group 2 semifinals
Poland coach Jacek Nawrocki pointed to Puerto Rico when asked about the group’s favourites - even though in their last encounter in Lublin Poland was the victorious side.
“For the national team of Poland these games here are crucial. Poland is being rebuilt and we’re working really hard to come back to be among the top teams in the world and stay there. Although there are many who think and say that the goals we set for ourselves are too far or too high, I do think that with each day, each game we get one step closer towards getting there. This is with all due respect for our opponents - we know how strong they are and what they are capable of, we just want to show ourselves from the best side, play our best volleyball in front of Polish fans.”
“We have a new team with new players and new quality of play," Poland captain Joanna Wołosz, who is one of the more experienced players, said. "It’s only the beginning, the beginning of the programme that we’ve set. I think this new team we have is a great collective of good and interesting players who are capable of becoming a great team in the future. A team which will be strong not with single players, but with their collective strength.”