2018 FIVB Women’s Volleyball World Championships
In a summer season marred by injury: a new level of disappointment for the Russian Women’s National Volleyball Team. Their 8th-place finish in 2018 marks the lowest finish at a World Championship in their history, even dating back to the Soviet era.
The Russians’ previous worst finishes were back-to-back 6th-place results in 1982 and 1986. This also marks Russia’s 2nd-straight tournament without a podium finish, after placing just 5th in 2014.
Russia are the most-decorated nation, including their Soviet trailers, in the history of the World Championships. They have won the tournament 7 times and finished on the podium 13 times in the 17 editions of the tournament through 2014.
The problem for the Russians were two-fold:
- Injuries – The Russian women came into the tournament knowing that they would be without outside hitter Tatiana Kosheleva, and that this would leave them with precious-few offensive options. Still, with Nataliya Goncharova pounding the ball in pre-Worlds tournaments, it looked like they might survive enough to at least keep their top-6 streak alive. But then disaster struck, and Gonchorova was out for the tournament with a shoulder injury. The team held it together against weaker competition early in the 2nd round, but when they faced their toughest opponents of the round, Italy and China, the team was unable to find enough reliable offense. The team hit just 37% against Italy, and while their 45% rate against China was better, China blocked 14 Russian shots in 4 sets. The team could’t get any traction from the right side, and when they were challenged by better teams, they crumbled. Then in the crucial match against Italy, the team lost its setter as well. All of these injuries exposed the…
- Lack of Depth – Middle blocker Irina Fetisova said after last year’s European Championships that the team had become predictable with Fesitova and Goncharova. She lamented that the team needed to diversify and find other ways to win, and when those two were out, the team couldn’t do enough to push through. Those comments also exposed the…
- Chemistry Problems– within the roster. Goncharova complained in August that the team had chemistry problems. That’s both her connection with the team’s setters (a position that changed many times shortly before the tournament, including dropping the team’s starter and coach’s daughter Ekaterina Pankova very close to the tournament. Goncharova said that she needed more time with her setters and teammates tot play at her best, and that came from the hitter who got the most repetitions this summer – definitely in matches, and probably in practice. If she wasn’t feeling comfortable, her teammates must have been really in a loop. The subtext of her comments, and the response from her coach, was that the problems were deeper. She asked to be more trusted, her coach’s response made it sound like there was some conflict about the number of sets she was receiving, and Goncharova even said of her teammates that “I think they were hesitant to play with me.”
A lot of attention has been paid to Brazil’s absence from the Final 6, after they earned medals at each of the last 3 editions. But the Brazilians, a more recent volleyball superpower on the women’s side, didn’t lose nearly the run as the Russians. Brazil was 7th in 2002, and until 1994 had never been higher than 5th.
The question becomes: would a full-strength Russian team have been able to advance? Russia, with Goncharova and Kosheleva, are probably better than the Netherlands and Japan; but even if we just focus on the more-recent absence of Goncharova – to advance would have meant via Pool F placement that the Americans or Chinese, 2 of the 4 best teams in the world, wouldn’t have. Then we would be crafting a whole different story of disappointment for one of those nations.
This shows that parity in women’s volleyball, while still not quite at the level of the men’s game, is improving, and so the era of teams with runs like the Russians’ is probably coming to an end.
All-Time Russian Finishes at the 2018 FIVB World Championship
- Soviet Union
- 1952 – Gold Medal
- 1956 – Gold Medal
- 1960 – Gold Medal
- 1962 – Silver Medal
- 1970 – Gold Medal
- 1974 – Silver Medal
- 1978 – Bronze Medal
- 1982 – 6th place
- 1986 – 6th place
- 1990 – Gold Medal
- 1994 – Bronze Medal
- 1998 – Bronze Medal
- 2002 – Bronze Medal
- 2006 – Gold Medal
- 2010 – Gold Medal
- 2014 – 5th place
- 2018 – 8th place