2018 FIVB Women’s Volleyball Nations League – Week 1/Pool 2
- May 15th-17th, 2018
- Beilun Gymnasium, Ningbo, China (capacity: 8,000)
- Time Zone: GMT + 8 (US Eastern Time +12)
- World Rankings: #1 China, #9 Dominican Republic, #10 South Korea #13 Belgium
|Date||Local Time||U.S. Eastern Time (24hr)||Host||Visitor|
|15 May||16:00||4:00||Belgium||South Korea|
|15 May||19:30||7:30||China||Dominican Republic|
|16 May||16:00||4:00||Dominican Republic||South Korea|
|17 May||16:00||4:00||Dominican Republic||Belgium|
|17 May||19:30||7:30||China||South Korea|
As we enter the first week of play, all 16 teams in the Volleyball Nations League are on equal footing. As compared to its predecessor event the World Grand Prix, there are 4 more teams in the top tier of the Volleyball Nation’s League, and teams will play 15 instead of 9 games. In the WGP, it usually took between 13 and 16 points to qualify for the Final 6 (tending toward higher point tallies in recent years as there was less parity between teams).
This year, we’re projecting that it will take about 25 or 26 points to advance. so teams hoping to advance to the Final 6 will want to shoot for 2 wins-per-week.
A 3-0 or a 3-1 win earns the maximum 3 points for the winner and 0 points for the losers. A 3-2 win earns 2 points for the winner and 1 point for the loser.
The FIVB has given China, who will host the Finals of this year’s Volleyball Nation’s League in Nanjing, a gift to start their tournament. Of all the contending teams in this year’s tournament, China has the easiest first week schedule.
Last year, China, who also had an assured spot in the Final 6 in 2017 as hosts as they do in 2018, sloughed pool play, including leaving Zhu Ting mostly on the bench until the 3rd-and-final week of action. After a long season with her professional side VakifBank, expect a similar strategy this year. They should still have enough firepower to pick up 8 or 9 points, with the Dominicans likely to give them the most trouble The two teams’ last major international meeting, at the 2015 World Grand Prix, China crushed DR, out-scoring them 75-36 in 3 sets), but a women’s-team-specific initiative in the country is already paying dividends and the team is back on the rise.
Dominican Republic and Belgium went a combined 5-13 in the top tier of last year’s FIVB Grand Prix, with Belgium going winless in Group 1 and only being saved demotion by the change in format this year.
Two of the teams in this pool, Belgium and Dominican Republic, are outside of the core dozen teams and risk demotion, so that should be an intense matchup, just as it was in last year’s Grand Prix where DR took a 5th-set victory in a back-and-forth affair where each team was dominant at times.
Star Players to Watch
- Belgium – With no World or European Championship to play for this summer, Belgium will be all-systems-go on maintaining their spot in this Volleyball Nation’s League as a ‘challenger’ squad. If that’s going to happen, it’s going to be on the wings of 6’2″ (188cm) opposite Kaja Grobelna. The Radom pro (Poland) received her first national team call-up for the Grand Prix last year, and ranked 10th in group 1 in scoring (129 points). She and Martinez will have a great battle in the Belgium-DR match on Thursday as two of the best young hitters in the world. With so much offensive focus on one player throughout the tournament, she was only able to hit at a 34% success rate, but showed in this year’s PlusLiga season that she is capable of bigger numbers – she was the 2nd-rated attacker in the 2017-2018 season, and improved her hitting to 38% there.
- China – Zhu Ting is an almost-unparalleled force in women’s volleyball. When she plays, her teams are the best in the world. When she doesn’t play, her teams are beatable. The MVP of the 2016 Olympics, Zhu is a monster on the outside. She suffered a minor ankle injury in the Champions League semi-final, that doesn’t seem to be serious, but China won’t want to take a chance on their superstar with Final 6 participation guaranteed. In her absence, opposite Gong Xiangyu becomes the team’s favorite target offensively, though they’ll rely heavily on their middles, including Yuan Xinyue, to keep them competitive offensively and defensively. Like the DR, many of China’s players participate in the domestic league (Zhu is the only one abroad, in Turkey), so they typically have a better preparation period for the summer international season.
- Dominican Republic – this is a young, incredibly-talented team led by the high-flying Brayelin Martinez. At 21-years old, the outside hitter has already been measured to touch 330cm (10’10”). She missed a big chunk of the Italian Serie A season for Pomi Casalmaggiore while playing in an off-season tournament for the Dominican National Team, but still managed over 13 points per game. She needs help offensively, though, and the call-up of 19-year old Vielka Peralta from the U-20 team could give her that boost. The Dominicans have a lot of experience playing together, including that Bolivarian Tournament in the fall, which should give them a boost over other teams that are rushing to regather players from the end of their professional seasons.
- South Korea – South Korea has been included in the list of core teams, mostly for political and economic reasons, but the club has been a second-tier team internationally since winning gold at the 2014 Asian Games. They were crushed by an 0-5 record at last year’s World Grand Champions Cup, with just a .691 point ratio (the next-worst, Russia, was .963). South Korea did play well in last year’s Grand Prix, sitting atop the pool play standings in Group 2 before losing 3-0 to Poland in the final, but they are probably the weakest of the core teams. They will rely heavily on 30-year old outside hitter Kim Yeon Koung, who was named the best outside hitter at last year’s Asian Volleyball Championship (and most major international championships of her career). She was named the MVP of the 2012 Olympics, in spite of her team finishing 4th and missing the podium. Depth is the difference between that team and the current South Korean iteration. Koung is the team’s best hitter and serve receiver, the team’s best server, and one of the team’s best blockers. She doesn’t have the support needed for Korea to contend anymore, and now in her 30s, it seems unlikely that she’ll stand on a podium for Korea again in her career.